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 Trying to apply outdated ideas of employment in the new world of work is not keeping up with the times.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.