The Government has broadly welcomed the long-awaited Taylor Review on Working Practices in the Modern Economy, in terms of its recognition of the advantages of the flexibility of UK working arrangements, balanced against the need to provided appropriate protection for all types of worker.
The Report identifies a number of principles and recommendations:
- The national strategy should be "good work for all", covering pay, job quality, education and training, working conditions, work-life balance, consultation and representation;
- The best way of achieving this is not legislation but "responsible corporate governance, good management and strong employment relations within the organisation";
- The same basic rights and responsibilities should apply to all forms of working;
- There should be routes to progression for all workers, and workers should be able to record and enhance their skills and experience throughout their working lives;
- The long-term strategy should be to have a consistent tax regime across all forms of working, including a reduction of cash-in-hand working, and to improve the rights of self-employed people;
- Zero-hours contracts should not be banned, but need to be carefully regulated to avoid exploitation of workers;
- Technology can offer more flexible and smarter ways of working;
- Platform-based working such as Uber and Deliveroo can create genuine opportunities for people who may not be able to work in more conventional ways, but there needs to be fairness, in terms both of protection for such workers, and competition in the marketplace;
- "Workers" should be re-named "Dependent Contractors"; there needs to be greater clarity about how to distinguish "Dependent Contractors" from the genuinely self-employed; and the law should provide additional protections for them;
- Whilst protecting workers is important, hidden costs of employment are high and should not be increased further;
- We need to develop a more proactive approach to workplace health; and
- Whilst the National Living Wage is a great way of protecting the incomes of low-paid workers, we need to take other steps to make sure that people can progress in their current and future work.
Unions and other worker representative organisations have criticised the Report for not going far enough to protect the interests and rights of workers in a broad range of new working arrangements, such as in particular delivery platforms and zero-hours contracts.
Flexible working arrangements and the comparatively unregulated employment law regime in the UK will doubtless be seen by the Government as a way of attracting inward investment post-Brexit, so it remains to be seen whether there will be any significant legislative changes as a result of the Taylor Report - although the outcome of the Uber appeal may prompt some changes to protections available to workers (or "Dependent Contractors").
The law has been struggling for over 100 years to provide a simple and clear distinction between employees and self-employed contractors, and the concept of "workers" introduced by the Working Time Regulations in 1998 has only added to the complexity of the status issue.
Perhaps the practical recommendations of the Report, in terms of ironing out the distinctions between the employment protections available to, and the tax treatment of, different ways of working, will make those distinctions less important in the future.