The rise of the gig economy and evolving models of business are changing the world of work. UK employment levels maintain record highs, and over 800,000 vacancies exist.
That said, there remains concern that, despite consistently long hours, the UK has the lowest levels of productivity of all EU member states – the pervasive UK “productivity puzzle”.
The overarching aim of the Taylor Review, which was published last summer, was to report on the modern world of work in the UK. This included ensuring that flexibility in the labour market was maintained, but was balanced to avoid one-sided flexibility and exploitation of workers.
The Review consulted widely across the UK with key stakeholders, including those representing business, trade unions, the legal profession, and academics – and of course spoke directly with businesses themselves.
It recommended “fair and decent work for all”, with much more employee/worker engagement to help address the ongoing productivity challenge. The Report contained 53 recommendations, ranging from clarity on employee and worker status, through to government-supported technology to assist the self-employed.
Since the Report was published, the level of engagement has been encouraging – not only from the politicians across the political divide, but also from employers and employee representative organisations.
The select committee took on board many of our recommendations, and went even further to suggest that, where there is a significant atypical workforce, all the individuals be deemed workers “by default”.
It was reassuring to see that the government’s official response to the consultation this week has accepted the majority of the Review’s recommendations. And, in some areas, the government is proposing to go slightly further to protect those who could be exploited by one-sided flexibility – for example, proposing to extend the right to request a direct contract for all workers, not just agency and zero hours workers.
In other areas, the government acknowledges the need to address issues without accepting our recommendations. It rejected our suggestion to reduce the difference between national insurance contributions of employees and the self-employed, as well as our suggestion that businesses be required to report on atypical workforces.
That said, this may be considered as part of wider corporate governance reform, and the government has agreed to consider greater alignment between binary taxation status and the tripartite employee/worker/self-employed status which often drives potentially exploitative business models.
However, although the government’s plan is a solid start to putting the Taylor Report into practice, there is still some way to go. Many of the recommendations that have been accepted in principle are the subject of consultations closing in May and June this year.
This all means that, by the time the consultation responses are reviewed and implemented, with the spectre of Brexit legislation passing through parliament, we could well be looking at 2019 before some of the key recommendations (like clarity on worker status) are introduced.
This is not helpful to individuals or businesses. During this time, the situation for many workers – not to mention many UK businesses – will remain without the all-important clarity and balance recommended by the Taylor Review and accepted by the government.
Given the extensive work already undertaken, the wide-ranging nature of the government consultation, and the understandable but frustrating about of time it will take, we need to keep up momentum.
So it’s up to MPs, businesses, and representative groups of both businesses and workers to maintain their calls for action in this area and ensure that they respond to the consultations even with the distraction of Brexit.
While it is essential to get the best EU deal possible for the UK economy, implementation of the Taylor recommendations and its overarching approach to good work must not be thrown further into the long grass, as increased productivity and continued flexibility in the UK workforce will be even more important post-Brexit.