After nine months of study and a road trip around British towns and cities being transformed for better and worse by rapid changes in the way we work, the government’s employment reviewer, Matthew Taylor, has grasped one nettle, if not the whole bunch. The Taylor review could make things worse for workers. What a surprise.
The Trades Unions Congress is disappointed there is little in the former Blair adviser’s recommendations to act against job insecurity which affects millions of workers who are in self-employment or on zero-hours contracts. A right for agency workers to request fixed hours when they have been engaged with the same hirer for 12 months is something. But millions will still fear the loss of their work at a moment’s notice, even as they may enjoy the flexibility of being able to work when they want.
And he has not blown away the uncertainties of a working life spent in the gig economy whose workers now number about 1.1 million. He has disappointed trade unions by not demanding full employment rights for people who work for companies such as Uber and Deliveroo. Instead, he has argued for the innovation and flexibility that both zero-hours and gig economy work, at their best, can enable. Exhausted warehouse workers on zero-hours terms may raise their eyebrows at that.
On the plus side, he has made a strong case for Theresa May’s government to finally redress a widely felt imbalance between poor workers and rich investors in some of the most highly valued and profitable companies in the world.
As the Guardian has charted, too many supposedly self-employed workers for companies such as Uber and Deliveroo and others including the delivery firms Hermes, DPD and UK Mail, have complained of low pay, insecurity and harsh treatment in business models that rely on self-employed labour to deliver cheaper services to consumers, higher profits to employers and tougher conditions for many workers.
Without sounding the death knell for the gig economy as we know it, he has done two things of merit to tackle these problems.
The first is to urge the government to enact primary legislation which will mean any self-employed workers who are under “control” or “supervision” from their contracting company should be considered a “dependent contractor”. That means they should receive holiday pay and sick pay, and, in most cases, wages that equate to at least the national minimum wage.
This boundary between self-employment and worker status has been blurry and has recently been redefined by employment tribunals rather than parliament. Uber last year lost a case brought by two drivers, James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam, who claimed they were not genuinely self-employed. The tribunal was damning in its verdict and was clear that these Uber drivers at least should be guaranteed the minimum wage and other basic employment rights.
- The Taylor review introduces the concept of the ‘dependent operator’, but doesn’t flesh it out.