Matthew Taylor and Theresa May launch the Taylor Review report (Photo by Matt Dunham - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
The Taylor review: The yay, the meh, and the no way
The Taylor review is finally here, along with a pretty large sense of anti-climax. This isn’t the game changer those in insecure work were looking for.
In assessing what it means, we’ve tried to keep in mind the people who told us about their experience of insecure work, of shifts being cancelled at the drop of a hat, of threats of being fired if you take a day sick, or of seeing your hours cut if you can’t immediately jump when the employer calls you in. We wanted to see proposals that would shift the balance of power decisively in favour of working people, so that they had a chance of taking on the bosses who are trying to cut costs on the backs of denying their workforce basic rights.
On Friday we set out what we thought the review should say. So how does it measure up?
Improving voice at work
As union campaigns from Sports Direct to Uber has shown us, the best way to tackle insecure work is through collective action.
The review proposes a limited step forward on helping more people have their voice heard at work through a reform of the Information and Consultation Regulations, which give employees a right to be heard at work.
But while the review says they heard ‘many positive examples of the role trade unions can play in good employment relations’, beyond a proposed review of information and condition rights and vague calls for the government to work with us, there’s nothing to help us do our job better.
We told the Taylor review that they could make one simple change by giving unions better access to workplaces to tell people about the benefits of joining. That’s something that could have given more workers an opportunity not to have to fight exploitation on their own.
Taylor’s first recommendation is to rename ‘worker’ status as ‘dependent contractor’. Our first response to this is that it could further muddy – already murky – legal waters (We’ll have more to say on this tomorrow). It’s also important that any changes don’t respond to the special pleadings of gig economy companies and don’t unpick key court wins secured by unions which confirm gig workers are employed and are entitled to employment rights including the minimum wage, holiday and rest breaks.
And there’s a real worry about what the review says about changing how the minimum wage is calculated for some in this group. Moving to ‘piece rates’, whereby the employer tells you how much work you should be doing per hour, rather than simply paying you when you’re at work, risks letting platform companies off the hook. What happens if an Uber or Deliveroo driver gets stuck in traffic? Will they get paid less for not completing their set quota of jobs?
And the review completely ducks the question of whether workers should benefit from more rights – including family friendly rights like returning to the same job after maternity leave.
There’s some more positive news on improving transparency at work. The report repeats the TUC’s longstanding call for a written statement telling workers how much they will be paid and how many hours they may work – from the first day of their job. And we’re pleased to see proposals requiring companies to report about the type of employment contracts on use – again, a longstanding TUC policy.
One sided flexibility?
Opening a chapter of the report called ‘one-sided flexibility’ was enough to get us mildly excited. We’ve been consistently arguing that the problem of insecure work is one in which key risks associated with work have been transferred to working people, while the financial rewards from flexibility accrue to employers.
But it’s here where the biggest disappointment lies. The report recommends that those on zero-hours contracts are given a right to request regular hours, after a year on the job. Think of those people worrying that their shift will be cancelled if they turn down insecure work. That’s not a right that they’re going to feel comfortable taking up. Putting all the pressure on the worker, and all the power in the hands of the boss simply won’t deliver the security these people desperately need.
There’s a slightly better idea in the report when it says it will ask the Low Pay Commission to examine the case for a higher NMW rate for hours that are not guaranteed as part of the contract. We think that’s the right principle, wrong mechanism. A pay premium for non-guaranteed hours is a good idea (and one of our recommendations to the review!), but we fear that doing it through the NMW makes it too easy for employers to game the system, simply by paying rates a penny above the NMW.
One area where the report does get a ‘yay’ is on the proposal to end the so-called ‘Swedish derogation’ which means that many agency workers are paid less than the regular workforce doing the exact same job. Business are already out lobbying against this – but it’s a clear unfairness and one that government should move swiftly to redress.
We’re also pleased to see calls for better sick pay entitlement. We estimate that nearly half a million people miss out on sick pay because they’re too low paid to qualify. It’s great to see the review recommend that everyone should be entitled from day one of their job, no matter how much they earn.
In discussing how workers can enforce their rights, the report at least acknowledges the elephant in the room – the introduction of employment tribunal fees of up to £1,200 which has seen the number of cases taken fall by almost 70 per cent.
But instead of saying what everyone who cares about this issue knows – that they need to be abolished – the review proposes some tinkering around the edges.
There are some more helpful suggestions on the wider enforcement agenda, including enabling HMRC to enforce payment of sick pay and holiday pay and making sure those working in complex supply chains that use agencies or umbrella companies actually know who their employer is.
But until we see those fees abolished, there’s no way that we can see all workers be able to access the rights they deserve.
So what now?
Of course, the real responsibility to tackle insecure work lies with the government. We’ll be pushing them to move swiftly to implement the nuggets of good news that are in there – like better pay for those working for agencies, and for those who fall sick – and to think carefully before making moves on employment status, or to weaken minimum wage protections.
And we’ll be continuing to push for our Great Jobs agenda – so that everyone has access to the decent work they deserve.