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Workers' rights: Government unveils new rules and consultation

19th Dec 2018
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Gig worker

It’s the largest update to workplace rights in a generation, according to the government. New workplace reforms take forward 51 of the 53 recommendations made by the Taylor Review of modern working practices.

The Taylor Review, you may recall, was a high-profile inquiry into the issues and consequences of flexible working (commonly called the gig economy) on Britain’s workers. The review culminated in a report entitled ‘Good Work’, where the 53 recommendations stem from.

Workers on zero-hour contracts, agency employees or "gig economy" workers are to be better protected by a package of workplace reforms, according to the government. Much maligned zero-hours contracts, however, will not be given the chop as “banning zero-hours contracts in their totality would negatively impact more people than it helped”.

The government noted that the new legislation will:

  • Close the Swedish derogation loophole that allowed agency staff to be paid less than permanent employees.

  • Ensure that companies provide a day one written statement of rights to workers, setting out what paid leave they are entitled to, including for illness, maternity and paternity leave.

  • Quadruple the maximum employment tribunal fines from £5,000 to £20,000 for employers who are demonstrated to have “shown malice, spite or gross oversight”.

  • Extend the holiday pay reference period from 12 to 52 weeks, ensuring those in seasonal or atypical roles get the paid time off they are entitled to.

  • Lower the threshold required for a request to set up information and consultation arrangements from 10% to 2%.

Alongside these changes, the government released a paper explaining how the scheme to name and shame employers who do not pay employment tribunal awards works: an idea directly taken from the Taylor Review.

The scheme is structured similarly to the existing scheme for National Minimum Wage underpayment and will name employers, along with the unpaid amount, in a quarterly press release.

Theatrics aside, of more substantive concern is the newly launched consultation on the National Minimum Wage (NMW) rules regarding salaried workers and the operation of salary sacrifice schemes.

Kate Upcraft will analyse will analyse this consultation in more granular detail in a standalone article for AccountingWEB, but the general outline of the consultation concerns:

  • Proposed changes to NMW regulations in relation to salaried hours work and where employers feel NMW rules “unfairly penalise them without generating any benefit or protection for workers”.

  • The practical operation of salary sacrifice schemes.

The consultation closes at 11:45pm on March 1, 2019.

Commenting on the announcements, business secretary Greg Clark said: "Today's largest upgrade in workers' rights in over a generation is a key part of building a labour market that continues to reward people for hard work, that celebrates good employers and is boosting productivity and earning potential across the UK."

As expected, the government’s reforms were criticised for not going far enough. The shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey opined that: "This Conservative government has failed to support workers. Instead, it has increased tribunal fees, attacked the health and safety of workers, introduced the draconian Trade Union Act and presided over the lowest wage growth in a decade.

"These proposals do nothing to tackle the growing number of people on precarious zero-hours contracts and with their botched Brexit deal threatening jobs and rights they'll have to do a lot more than this to reassure workers."

The TUC’s Frances O’Grady agreed, adding that, “These reforms as a whole won’t shift the balance of power in the gig economy.

“Unless unions get the right to organise and bargain for workers in places like Uber and Amazon, too many working people will continue to be treated like disposable labour.

“The right to request guaranteed working hours is no right at all. Zero-hours contract workers will have no more leverage than Oliver Twist.”

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