Government announces right to request guaranteed hours contract

The Government has announced plans to for day-one rights for all workers and the right for zero hours and precarious workers to request a more stable contract, but has been criticised for failing to introduce a law banning bogus self-employment.

The ‘Good Work plan’ is the Government’s response to the independent Taylor Review, published last year, which investigated what impact modern working practices are having on the world of work.

The Government said it would look to enforce vulnerable workers’ holiday and sick pay for the first time and create day-one rights including holiday and sick pay entitlements and a new right to a payslip for all workers, including casual and zero-hour workers. All workers, not just zero-hour and agency, would have to request a more stable contract.

The Prime Minister said: “We recognise the world of work is changing and we have to make sure we have the right structures in place to reflect those changes, enhancing the UK’s position as one of the best places in the world to do business.

“Matthew Taylor recognised that the UK’s employment law and tax law can fail to provide the clarity that employers and individuals need. The Government is also launching a detailed consultation examining options, including new legislation, to make it easier for both the workforce and businesses to understand whether someone is an employee, worker or self-employed – determining which rights and tax obligations apply to them.”

Critics complained that the consultation on employment status did not go far enough. The TUC said the proposals would not stop zero hours workers being hired and fired or tackle bogus self-employment.

The Government said it will also seek to protect workers’ rights by:

  • taking further action to ensure unpaid interns are not doing the job of a worker;
  • introducing a new naming scheme for employers who fail to pay employment tribunal awards
  • quadrupling employment tribunal fines for employers showing malice, spite or gross oversight to £20,000 and considering increasing penalties for employers who have previously lost similar cases
  • providing all 1.2 million agency workers with a clear breakdown of who pays them and any costs or charges deducted from their wages
  • asking the Low Pay Commission to consider the impact of higher minimum wage rates for workers on zero-hour contracts
  • considering repealing laws allowing agencies to employ workers on cheaper rates
  • defining ‘working time’ for flexible workers who find jobs through apps or online so they know when they should be being paid
  • launching a task force with business to promote awareness and take-up of the right to request flexible working introduced in 2014
  • making sure new and expectant mothers know their workplace rights and raise awareness amongst employers of their obligations
  • launching a new campaign to encourage more working parents to share childcare through Shared Parental Leave.

The Government also said it would consider how to promote “quality work” when agreeing new sector deals with industry, encouraging employers to show how they are investing in their workforces to improve productivity.

new report, published by the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS) alongside the Government’s response to the Taylor Review, shows many gig economy workers are ‘relatively content with their working life’, but that their experience depends in large part on whether they are dependent on gig work as their main source of income.

Led by the independent Institute for Employment Studies (IES), the research covered topics such as pay and conditions, feelings towards employment rights, opportunities for progression and health and safety issues. The study captured data from a wide range of workers; from students and retirees, to professionals relying on such work as their main source of income, covering fields including driving, administration and marketing.

The report highlights the diversity of the gig experience and says that, if workers depend heavily on gig economy work as their main source of income, they are potentially vulnerable to fluctuations in working hours and therefore pay levels, short notice of working schedules and a degree of precariousness associated with a lack of employment rights. It also calculates that around 700,000 gig workers are earning less than the mandatory £7.50 per hour working as couriers, taxi drivers and in other self-employed work.

Nigel Meager, director of the Institute for Employment Studies, said: “With the release of the Government’s response to the Taylor review, it’s clear that rights for gig economy workers is a key topic. This latest IES research reveals that, for many, the trade-off between flexibility and any resulting lack of employment rights and security is worth the sacrifice. Nevertheless, the news of additional rights will be rightly welcomed as new initiatives are introduced to support short-term and pay-by-task workers.”

He added: ‘The diversity of this section of the UK workforce identified in the research highlights a key challenge for policymakers in unpacking the aggregate concepts of ‘gig economy’ or ‘self-employed’ to accurately identify the groups and how they should be regulated, protected or indeed reclassified as employees with all the rights and obligations of dependent employment. It is to be hoped that the new consultation on employment status announced in the response to Taylor provides further evidence on where some of these boundaries lie, and that evidence is sufficient basis for policy and legislation.”

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