The Taylor review: what should it say?
The long-awaited Taylor Review into “modern employment” practices is just days away from publication.
It’s been talked up a great deal by ministers and cited numerous times by the Prime Minister, so it’s fair to say that expectations are high.
Matthew deserves credit for his willingness to engage throughout the review. He has heard from trade unionists at events around the country and spoke at our insecure work conference last week.
So what are we hoping to get from the review?
The importance of voice at work
Giving people the chance to have their voice heard at work is the best way to drive up working conditions for everyone. And trade unions are the best way to deliver this.
We have long argued for better consultation rights. But for this to make a real difference, we need to go further and give unions better access to workplaces.
Just look at the difference unions have made in companies like Uber and Sports Direct.
A good blueprint for improving voice at work would involve:
- Extending collective bargaining
- Putting workers on company boards
- And developing new sectoral level bodies, where unions would work with employers to improve pay, conditions and training, particularly in low-paid industries
These would be common-sense moves. Not revolutionary proposals.
Righting the wrongs
Matthew could be forgiven for never wanting to hear the words ‘employment status’ ever again.
But, though the difference (and overlap) between ‘employee’, ‘worker’ and ‘self-employment’ status seems technical, it really matters. We explain why our in own report on insecure work.
We’d like to see root and branch reform of the modern workplace, with a new expanded category of worker. This would help ensure that more workers across the economy benefit from the same decent floor of rights as employees.
But there are also smaller changes that could make a real difference.
The burden of proof should be on the employer to prove that someone is not an employee. Self-employment should be a genuine choice for working people, rather than one foisted on them by their employer. Currently it’s all too easy for employers to label someone as self-employed in an attempt to dodge employment rights and tax responsibilities.
The rules on continuity of employment are another problem that deprives many people of their rights. The law needs to be modernised to ensure agency workers and those on zero hours contracts don’t miss out on key rights – including protection from unfair dismissal, redundancy pay and family friendly rights – just because their employer did not offer them some work every week of the year.
We need to do more to make sure people know what they will be paid and how many hours they will be expected to work. Incredibly, many workers still don’t have a right to a pay slip and written statement of terms and conditions from the first day of their job.
Flexibility for who?
The growth in insecure forms of work means that employers have been able to transfer all the risks of managing variable demands for their services onto their workforce. Individuals haven’t received any rewards in return.
The TUC agrees with Matthew Taylor that flexibility in the workplace should cut both ways.
So we hope that the review will call for a ban on zero-hours contracts. Individuals who work regular hours must have a right to a guaranteed hours contract. This is likely to prove more effective than simply a right to request. A right to request would mean working people – a bit like Oliver Twist – are left to ask ‘Please sir may I have some more?’
Paying workers for being flexible
Workers must be rewarded for flexibility in their pay. All workers, including those on zero-hours and short-hours contracts should also have the right to premium pay for every hour of non-contracted work. This right would ensure that those who are expected to work flexibly are properly rewarded. It would also create a financial incentive for employers to reduce their reliance on insecure forms of work.
It’s been suggested that this could be achieved through the National Minimum Wage. We understand the desire to focus on some of the lowest paid workers. But using the National Minimum Wage would allow employers to simply boost their pay levels by, say, a penny an hour, in order to avoid having to pay a flexibility premium. Instead we think this should be a contractual premium.
And as hundreds of workers have told us, too often ‘flexibility’ for the employer means the flexibility to cancel shifts at short notice. So we need a clear right to compensation if shifts are cancelled at short notice.
A better deal for agency workers
We’re hoping that Matthew recognises that the loopholes in the Agency Worker Regulations need to be closed. These are often referred to as ‘the Swedish derogation’. They allow agency workers to be paid less than directly employed staff doing the exactly the same job.
Ending the pay penalty for agency staff is a key test of whether the review is serious about tackling unfairness at work.
Rights are not worth the paper they are written on if you can’t enforce them. That’s why we think the review needs to stress the importance of abolishing employment tribunal fees now. There’s a clear consensus, from Parliament to Citizens Advice to the Law Society that these fees are a real barrier to justice. It’s time they’re ditched.
But the TUC also believes we need more innovative approaches to enforcement, with policies that encourage employers to check for compliance throughout their supply chains. We’ve argued that the government should pilot a joint and several liability approach. We can learn from initiatives in the Netherlands, the USA, as well as the Modern Slavery Act introduced by Theresa May.
National and local government should also use procurement rules to ensure that contractors who provide help to deliver public services fully comply with employment standards. Wherever possible, they should ensure they avoid the use of insecure contracts.
Follow the money
Matthew’s talked about wanting to review the taxation of different forms of work. We hope he’s prepared to be bold.
The major difference in taxation is that paid by employers. Employers gain a 13.8 per cent tax reduction from classifying someone as self-employed. This is because they don’t need to pay employer national insurance contributions. That has to help explain why Britain has seen the fastest rise in self-employment in Europe – as well as why it’s continually falling short in collecting the tax revenues it expects.
The TUC estimates that the cost to the exchequer of insecure work – through lower income tax receipts and national insurance contributions – is more than £4bn a year.
Let people have a family life
Before the election, Theresa May’s government promised to look at paternity and maternity benefits for the self-employed. Extending statutory paternity, maternity and paternity pay to this group is well overdue.
However, Matthew should go further. He needs to look at access to sick pay, particularly for those in insecure jobs who currently earn too little to qualify.
And the Taylor review will be ducking a major issue if it doesn’t mention Universal Credit cuts. These are set to hit both the self-employed, and those in low paid jobs, hard, over the next few years.
This isn’t the end, it’s just the start
Of course, Matthew can only make recommendations. It’s up to the government to implement them, or go further if it doesn’t think they will move the dial on insecurity at work.
That’s why we’ve launched the Great Jobs Agenda, setting out what we think needs to be done to ensure that everyone has access to the great job they deserve.
The Taylor review may feel like the end of a long process – and we’re looking forward to reading it. But it’s just the start of the campaign to ensure that insecurity at work becomes a thing of the past.