• International Workplace
  • 18 July 2017

All work should be fair and decent, says Taylor Review

An independent review into the implications of new forms of work on worker rights and responsibilities, as well as on employer freedoms and obligations, has been published by the Government.  

Good Work: The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices, authored by Matthew Taylor, is based on a single overriding ambition: All work in the UK economy should be fair and decent with realistic scope for development and fulfilment.

The report includes recommendations for specific measures the authors would like to see enacted as soon as possible. It makes the case for longer-term strategic shifts and, overarching all of this, issues a call to employers to sign up to the ambition of all work being good work.

Published on 11 July, the review sets out seven principles to address the challenges facing the UK labour market:

  1. Our national strategy for work – the British way – should be explicitly directed toward the goal of good work for all, recognising that good work and plentiful work can and should go together. Good work is something for which Government needs to be held accountable but for which we all need to take responsibility.
  2. a) The same basic principles should apply to all forms of employment in the British economy – there should be a fair balance of rights and responsibilities, everyone should have a baseline of protection and there should be routes to enable progression at work.
  3. b) Over the long term, in the interests of innovation, fair competition and sound public finances we need to make the taxation of labour more consistent across employment forms while at the same time improving the rights and entitlements of self-employed people.
  4. c) Technological change will impact work and types of employment and we need to be able to adapt, but technology can also offer new opportunities for smarter regulation, more flexible entitlements and new ways for people to organise.
  5. Platform-based working offers welcome opportunities for genuine two-way flexibility and can provide opportunities for those who may not be able to work in more conventional ways. These should be protected while ensuring fairness for those who work through these platforms and those who compete with them. Worker (or ‘Dependent Contractor’ as we suggest renaming it) status should be maintained but we should be clearer about how to distinguish workers from those who are legitimately self-employed.
  6. The law and the way it is promulgated and enforced should help firms make the right choices and individuals to know and exercise their rights. Although there are some things that can be done to improve working practices for employees, the ‘employment wedge’ (the additional, largely nonwage, costs associated with taking someone on as an employee) is already high and we should avoid increasing it further. ‘Dependent contractors’ are the group most likely to suffer from unfair one-sided flexibility and therefore we need to provide additional protections for this group and stronger incentives for firms to treat them fairly.
  7. The best way to achieve better work is not national regulation but responsible corporate governance, good management and strong employment relations within the organisation, which is why it is important that companies are seen to take good work seriously and are open about their practices and that all workers are able to be engaged and heard.
  8. It is vital to individuals and the health of our economy that everyone feels they have realistically attainable ways to strengthen their future work prospects and that they can, from the beginning to the end of their working life, record and enhance the capabilities developed in formal and informal learning and in on the job and off the job activities.
  9. The shape and content of work and individual health and wellbeing are strongly related. For the benefit for firms, workers and the public interest we need to develop a more proactive approach to workplace health.
  10. The National Living Wage is a powerful tool to raise the financial base line of low paid workers. It needs to be accompanied by sectoral strategies engaging employers, employees and stakeholders to ensure that people – particularly in low paid sectors – are not stuck at the living wage minimum or facing insecurity but can progress in their current and future work.

One of the key issues addressed in the review is the gig economy, which has been heavily debated of late. The most commonly used examples are Uber and Deliveroo but there are a growing number of platforms facilitating working in this way.

Earlier this month, British takeaway food delivery firm Deliveroo stated it would give its self-employed riders insurance and sick pay if the Government changed the law so it could offer some rather than all the entitlements enjoyed by workers. "Current employment law prevents on-demand companies from extending some of the entitlements that are open to 'workers' without calling into question the status of its riders, who are self-employed," the company said.

The courts are establishing on a case-by-case basis that many of those participating through the gig economy are already workers under today’s framework. However, the review states that there will be some who fall into this category for the first time. “If a change of this type were to result in a loss of the flexibility so many platform workers desire, this would represent failure. As such, these changes must be accompanied by a new approach that supports genuine two-way flexibility enabled by digital platforms,” comments Taylor.

“Individuals and companies working in the gig economy have also repeatedly said to us that they value the ability to ‘sign on’ for work as and when they please. Platforms present individuals with greater freedom over when to work, and what jobs to accept or decline, than most other business models. It is essential we do not lose this.

“The gig economy adds new challenges,” says the review, “but the fundamental issues are prevalent in many other sectors and business models. While there is undoubtedly an important role for flexibility in the labour market, we believe that too many employers and businesses are relying on zero hours, short-hours or agency contracts, when they could be more forward thinking in their scheduling. We want to incentivise employers to provide certainty of hours and income as far as possible, and to think carefully about how much flexibility they can reasonably expect from their workers. Workers need to be able to make informed decisions about the work that they do, to plan around it, and to be compensated if arrangements change at short notice.”

Despite its apparent forward-thinking approach, the review hasn’t been entirely met with positivity. Commenting after the publication on 11 July, TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady, said:

“It's no secret that we wanted this review to be bolder. This is not the game-changer needed to end insecurity at work. A ‘right to request’ guaranteed hours is no right at all for many workers trapped on zero-hours contracts. And workers deserve the minimum wage for every minute they work, not just the time employers choose to pay them for.

“But Matthew Taylor is right to call for equal pay for agency staff and sick leave for low-paid workers — something which unions have long campaigned for. The Government should move swiftly to implement these recommendations. We need a proper crackdown on bad bosses who treat their staff like disposable labour. And an end to Employment Tribunal fees that price workers out of justice.”