Unite has raised questions over supposed government proposals briefed to the media this week that would strengthen ‘gig economy’ workers’ rights.
The Guardian reported on Thursday (November 8) that the business secretary Greg Clark has said he intends to implement several of the key recommendations in the Taylor Review. The report, published last year, was the outcome of an investigation into modern employment practices led by former Tony Blair adviser Matthew Taylor.
Proposals that the government has said it is looking to bring forward include new laws to give workers in insecure roles the right to request a temporary or fixed hours contract after 12 months; possible compensation for cancelled shifts for workers on zero- or short-hours contracts; clarification on the criteria that determines whether a worker is self-employed; and new laws that force employers to give workers sick and holiday pay, among other measures.
Ministers are said to be exploring the idea of creating a single labour market enforcement department by bringing together parts of the HMRC, the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority and the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate. They also want to impose harsher penalties on companies that flout employment law as well as establish a ‘name and shame’ list of bosses that fail to pay out employment tribunals, similar to the name and shame list for firms that fail to pay the minimum wage.
They also have floated the idea of an investigation into exploitation at car washes, a sector which is rife with abuse and is often reported to the police for practices linked to modern day slavery.
When Taylor first published his report in July 2017, it took the government more than six months to respond in February this year, when Clark pledged he would act on the Review. But it hasn’t been until now that he has laid out his proposals to cabinet colleagues.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey questioned whether these reported proposals would come to fruition and even if they did, he argued, they wouldn’t go far enough to support people trapped in insecure work.
“It remains to be seen if the proposals the government has briefed to media on the gig economy will see the light of day, and if they do, whether they will be the leap needed to ensure that millions of people in precarious work have the security of knowing from one week to the next whether they will be able to put food on the table and pay the bills,” he said.
“Unite has long campaigned for the door to be slammed shut on the legal loophole that allows agency workers to be paid less than permanent workers and will look closely at the detail of the government’s proposal when it emerges,” McCluksey added.
“Giving people on zero hour contracts and workers in the gig economy the right to request a contract after 12 months will not stop bad bosses from exploiting workers,” he pointed out. “The government should tell bosses to give workers a contract from day one and take a leaf out of New Zealand’s book by banning the use of exploitative zero hours altogether.
“It is abundantly clear that Theresa May and her Tory government still needs to accept that the best protection against worker abuse is strong enforcement coupled with strong trade unions. Ministers need to stop making it harder for us to do our job and accept too that the super-charging of low-wage, insecure work can be directly traced to the destructive deregulatory approach of the last 40 years.”
“The world of work is changing rapidly,” McCluskey went on to say. “But its insecurity is heightened because of bad behaviour by some powerful vested interests. A piecemeal approach and a refusal to recognise the central role trade unions can play in closing the yawning gap of inequality in this country will not create an economy that works for all.”
When the Taylor Review was first published, Unite said that it “failed spectacularly to deliver” because its recommendations did not go far enough and the Review also failed to mention the role of trade unions.