Monday, July 24, 2017

What is Good Work?

I've just posted this on a CIPD discussion forum on Good Work, so thought I'd repeat it here...

It's great to hear that the CIPD is championing Good Work and encouraging the HR profession to think more broadly about Work as a topic.

Work is not just jobs and employment. Good work is not just engaging with employees and providing them with rewarding conditions of employment. Work is an activity carried out by people in order to produce a result.

To provide a product or service to a customer in exchange for payment is work. Many people do 'work' for charities and don't get paid but they get other rewards. We have to include all these activities in the definition of good work.

The Taylor Review recognises that we are seeing a major change in the way work is performed. Platforms, such as Uber or Ebay provide individuals with an opportunity to do paid work for a customer. Hence we have seen a growth in self-employment where individuals take responsibility for their own benefits but have control over when, where and how they get work done.

What Taylor tries to do is to apply 'good jobs' criteria to 'platform' work by creating the 'dependent contractor' category. This misses the point that many of these workers enjoy the independence of not being an employee and are prepared to miss out on benefits in exchange for being their own boss. Are we in danger of applying 'good jobs' criteria in a world where 'jobs' are giving way to 'work'.

One example of this is the assumption that work is measured by the hour. This conflicts with the idea of paying for a service or product based on what it is worth not how long it takes. Why should I pay an incompetent plumber for two hours work when the leak could have been fixed in an hour? This leads to confusion for platforms like Uber, where I'm happy to pay a fee for someone to drive me from A to B and there is no 'rate per hour' involved. Trying to apply National Minimum Wage in these circumstances becomes meaningless. (Maybe Universal Basic Income is the answer but that's a whole separate topic!)

Yes, we should stop unscrupulous employers from exploiting people by classifying them as self-employed to save NI contributions and avoid employment legislation. But we need to move away from the assumption that a secure lifetime career with a responsible employer is good work and the 'gig economy' is bad work. At least Taylor didn't fall into the trap of condemning all zero hours contracts, but recognised that they bring valuable flexibility and are popular among the majority of people involved.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Modern Working Practices need further reviews

The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices has taken a fresh look at the way work is evolving and has come up with some sensible suggstions. It looked at non-standard working patterns and the introduction of ‘gig working’ using platforms such as Uber which has resulted in confusion about the status of workers.  When are they ‘self employed’ versus being employees of some sort?

The review goes part way to a solution by recommending a ‘dependent contractor’ category fitting between employees and the self-employed. These people would get some of the employment rights currently enjoyed by employees such as holiday pay, sickness benefits and the minimum wage. There would still be genuine self-employed workers but it would reduce the number of people currently treated this way by employers attempting to save money or avoid other commitments.

Importantly the review recognises that a high percentage of people with flexible work patterns are very happy with the arrangements. Many of the ‘gig workers’ are fitting in tasks around their other priorities and do not want conventional employment. This is also true of zero hours contracts, where the report concludes “To ban zero hours contracts in their totality would negatively impact many more people than it helped”.

But it still makes the assumption that good work has to be expressed in time units and not output. If people are getting the national minimum wage then they are being treated ‘fairly’. If they are working flexibly without guaranteed hours then they should get the minimum plus 20%. This cuts across the whole idea of the ‘gig economy’.

If a customer wants a service and a supplier is prepared to provide it, then work is done to make this happen. If I want to go from A to B and someone is happy to take me for a fixed price, then we have a deal. This is not expressed in an hourly rate and there is no statutory minimum I am obliged to pay for the service. Applications like Uber connect a service provider with a customer at a defined price. This is ‘work’ in the Digital Age but it’s not employment in a ‘job’ with an hourly wage or annual salary.

As these new ways of working continue to grow we have to have laws and business practices that reflect the gig economy. Trying to apply outdated ideas of employment in the new world of work is not keeping up with the times. The Taylor Review is a start, but the journey needs to continue.