What a relief! Two weeks ago I prepared for the Government’s long awaited response to ‘Good Work’, the independent Review on employment practices, which I chaired.
But on the appointed day the Prime Minister returned from Brussels with ‘the plan’ and our announcement disappeared from the grid. So, when I was told last week that Monday was the new day, I didn’t hold my breath. Now at last, nearly 18 months after the Review was published, the time has come.
I won’t go into the detail here as it is all in the public domain. Suffice to say the Government's response is substantive, positive and significant. For me among the most important measures are:
- A commitment to clarify employment status rules and to put more emphasis on ‘control and supervision’ as the main criterion for worker status. This should help reduce bogus self-employment and improve clarity and enforcement by bringing employment and tax status into closer alignment.
- Significant strengthening of rights to day one information for workers, of enforcement capacity and of fines for non-compliance. Together this should make it much harder for bad employers to get away with abuse by default.
- A right to request permanent contracts and guaranteed hours, which I hope will be backed up by the requirement that employers publish details of the number of requests they have received and acceded to.
- The abolition of the Swedish derogation from agency worker rules. This is the only thing in the package welcomed by the TUC which argues it would have been achieved anyway (fortunately, I don’t rely on the General Secretary’s public statement to know the private position of Congress officers is rather more realistic).
- A major lowering of the threshold for workers to have rights to information and consultation at work (and thus, implicitly, independent representation) from 10% of an employers’ workers – which was too high and the same threshold as trade union representation – to just 2%.
- For the first time, a commitment to measuring the quality of work in the UK economy and to ministers being accountable for its improvement.
- In addition to my own recommendations, the Government is also taking forward most of the proposals in Sir David Metcalfe’s review of enforcement, including creating a single labour market inspectorate and exploring making larger companies liable for non-compliance in their labour supply chain.
Altogether fifty-one of our fifty-three recommendations are being enacted. The most important missing idea – a higher minimum wage for variable hours – has gone because the Low Pay Commission thinks that minimum notice periods and fines for late cancelation are a better way to address the irresponsible use of zero and low hours contracts. I’m happy to accept the Commission’s judgement.
The information and consultation provision is particularly welcome and perhaps the single measure for which I had to press hardest in both the Review and with the Government. It should make partnership working – albeit at a modest level – much more the norm in British workplaces and signal the end of the master and servant culture which is still far too widespread. I am hoping the RSA will now work with positive voices in the trade union movement and human resources world to encourage workers to take up their rights to a voice in company affairs.
I will leave others to comment on the irony that just as we prepare to leave the EU our approach to the workplace is becoming more European. The Government’s package is a shot across the bows of those hoping Brexit will lead to the UK being a haven for deregulated employment practice. It is also unprecedented in my long lifetime to see a Conservative Government acting decisively to strengthen the rights of workers. The Labour Party is unlikely to be enthusiastic but it is worth noting that the Government has acted broadly in line with the recommendations on my package made unanimously by the MPs from all parties on DWP and BEIS Select Committees.
There will be people wanting to go further than the Government. But remember that not only do we as a country have a good record on employment numbers to maintain but also real wages are starting to rise and it turns out our productivity performance isn’t quite as bad as we thought. Overall, the case for incremental improvement in our system is stronger than that for wholesale change. The case for pragmatism is based on the evidence not ideology or political expediency.
There is still, of course, much more to be done to encourage better work. A crucial issue is the way technology will impact and the RSA’s Future of Work Centre is focussing on this important question.
Ultimately, I am honoured to have been asked by the Prime Minister to lead this Review and I am proud of the outcome. The report has come to be called the Taylor Review but it only succeeded thanks to thank the dedicated team of civil servants who supported the process and the work my fellow Review members, Greg Marsh and Diane Nicol. Most of all, this is time to remember the fourth member of the Review – Paul Broadbent - a great public servant who died late last year and is sadly missed. Better right and entitlements for British workers are a fitting testament to his many years of public duty.
Fabian Wallace-Stephens sets out key findings and recommendations from our report on how the dual impacts of Covid-19 and technological change and could reshape the labour market.