Trade unions have rebutted claims by a government appointed chairman of a review into insecure work – including zero-hour, gig economy and agency roles – that most people “want to work that way.”
Top adviser to Theresa May, Matthew Taylor, told a TUC conference that up to three quarters of workers in such roles preferred so-called “flexible working” and changing that “should be the last thing we should do.”
Taylor, a former adviser to Tony Blair, said his report will be ready for publication in a “couple of weeks” and will concentrate on the importance of “two way” flexible working that benefits both employer and employee, rather than banning exploitative practices.
He said, “Of course you can just ban certain types of flexibility, and that will stop the exploitation, but if at the same time, you’re actually stopping two-thirds of people or three-quarters of people from working in ways that they want to, then that’s not a good way to conduct public policymaking.”
Replying to his speech, University and College Union general secretary Sally Hunt, commented that she doesn’t “meet many two-way flexible workers – only one-way and it needs to change.”
Taylor’s speech came on the same day as the TUC published a highly critical report on the gig economy that revealed 3.2m people are subject to insecure work because their contract doesn’t guarantee regular hours or a steady income, or because they are in low-paid self-employment.
The report also cited official statistics showing the number of people in insecure work has risen by more than 25 per cent since 2011.
Senior TUC employment rights officer Hannah Reed told the Recruiter magazine that the congress’ research did not correspond with Taylor’s claims that most people in precarious work prefer it.
She said, “The TUC has done its own survey of people and their experiences which showed that a significant proportion – many millions – don’t have any real choice in how many hours they work and how much pay they take home, which makes it impossible to plan their lives.”
As well as causing hardship and uncertainty and denying workers vital employment rights, Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said research shows insecure work costs the government around £4bn a year in lost tax revenues and benefit payouts.
“In recent years we have seen an acceleration in the race to the bottom on our pay and working conditions, with companies finding increasingly creative ways of taking advantage of loopholes in our employment rights and tax system,” Turner said.
“We should be closing the loopholes, strengthening trade union and employment rights positively and, through an investment-not-cuts economic policy, creating and growing decent jobs in this country.”