Matthew Taylor’s Good Work: the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices, published in July last year, made 53 recommendations with the overarching ambition that all work in the UK economy should be fair and decent, with realistic scope for development and fulfilment.
The government has now provided its 'Good work plan' response to the Taylor review, positively embracing many of the recommendations and setting out an action plan in respect of the elements it intends to progress. In fact, in some areas the government’s response goes further than the recommendations, such as creating a right for all workers to request a more predictable contract where appropriate.
Rather than simply focusing on the high-profile issues arising from the recent gig economy cases, the government’s response takes a more holistic approach to the issue of worker rights, making quicker gains where it can in relation to transparency and enforcement, while taking longer to assess trickier issues such as employment status.
Short-term action points the government intends to take include a campaign to highlight rights to shared parental leave and flexible working, and the introduction of an entitlement for agency workers to be provided with certain mandatory information. There will also be enhanced enforcement by, primarily, HMRC with regard to basic core rights such as sick pay and holiday pay, and second by employment tribunals through increased awards and penalties for employers that are repeat offenders.
To progress its proposals the government has launched four consultations:
- enforcement of employment rights recommendations;
- agency worker recommendations;
- increasing transparency in the labour market; and
- employment status.
The government is also gathering evidence on what measures best evaluate whether work is good. There is to be a final list of measures outlining the government’s baseline assessment of the quality of work currently in the UK economy, which is due to be published this autumn.
One of the most anticipated aspects of the government’s response related to the clarification of employment status. The government agrees that it should be easier for individuals and businesses to identify whether someone is an employee, worker or self-employed. However, it also acknowledges the complexity of this issue and that changes need to be assessed carefully. There will therefore be no quick fix coming from the government, and individuals are likely to find the courts a more effective source of resolution in the short term.
This may be a disappointment for many, particularly those who work in business models such as the gig economy, but the government’s cautious approach pays due regard to the risk of rectifying one problem only to create another. For example, the Taylor review recommended codifying current case law into legislation, but the government’s response highlights the risk this might present for individuals and businesses identifying loopholes. The government is therefore considering possible alternatives such as a more complex test based on precise criteria and structure, a simplified test based on fewer factors, or simply helping employers to better understand the current test.
The government’s response reflects a desire to engage with many of the issues highlighted and recommendations made by the Taylor review. It should be viewed encouragingly by individuals and employers. Specifically, there are key anticipated gains for individuals who have the status of worker.
There are no immediate steps for businesses to take but this is definitely a space to watch. Those who wish to play a more active role can contribute a response to the government’s consultations, which have closing dates ranging between 9 May and 28 June. It is anticipated that once the consultations have closed there will be increased pressure on the government to reflect its current support for changes in tangible actions.
Sarah Ozanne is an employment lawyer at CMS