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The Government’s Good Work Plan – but is it good, will it work and what is the plan?

The Government’s Good Work Plan – but is it good, will it work and what is the plan?

Wednesday 7th February 2018

The long awaited government proposals have been published today following the Matthew Taylor review of employment practices in the modern economy published in July 2017. As predicted, reactions have been mixed.

"The government’s good work plan is no good, it won’t work and it isn’t a plan", says UNISON. TUC General Secretary Frances O'Grady added: "The government has taken a baby step - when it needed to take a giant leap.

"These plans won't stop the hire and fire culture of zero-hours contracts or sham self-employment. And they will still leave 1.8 million workers excluded from key protections.”

However Business Secretary Greg Clark said the measures would "address very clearly the rights of those in insecure work”.

Behind the headlines is the reality that one of the main recommendations of the review has not been adopted, or not yet. The review recommended that legislation should be amended to provide for “dependent contractors” as a way of providing basic employment rights to those gig workers who depend mainly on one person to provide them with work. This has not been adopted but instead there is to be “further consultation” on how the law should deal with this question of employment status.

The review estimated that there are around 1.1 million workers in the gig economy. The usual position is that those workers are treated as self-employed. They therefore lack the most basic of employment rights including the right to receive a written contract, the right to the National Minimum Wage and paid holidays. There can often be onerous practices like penalties and deductions for not being available and shifts not worked. The review has recognised that the flexibility associated with “gig working” is valued. However it should not come at the cost of basic rights. It is clear that this fundamental issue will now be subject to a further period of consultation. The government has its hands full dealing with Brexit and it may be many months before we see any concrete proposals here. In the meantime we are likely to see more of the litigation of these issues as we have seen in the Uber case (which is still proceeding through the Court system on appeal) and others such as the Pimlico Plumbers case (which is due to be heard in the Supreme Court).

The government proposals include statements around an intention to enforce vulnerable workers holiday and sick pay rights, a new right to receive a payslip for all workers including casual and zero hours workers and a right for all workers (not just zero hours workers) to request a “more stable contract” which provides increased financial security. The Taylor review had suggested that workers under zero hours contracts would have the right to request a fixed hours contract and that larger employers would have a duty to report on the number of requests received and granted. It remains to be seen what a “more stable contract” will actually look like and whether these suggestions will be adopted. 

Although the government’s press release confirms that the government has acted on all but one of Matthew Taylor’s 53 recommendations the detail of this is as yet unclear. Will 2018 be a year of real change in employment law or will we have to wait? Time will tell.