Executive Leader Cllr Kieran Quinn

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Councillor Kieran Quinn, Executive Leader of Tameside Council

The Taylor Review: Asking the Right Questions, Delivering the Wrong Answers

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Picture this situation. Somebody steals something from you and, when you confront them over what they’ve done, they offer to give you half of it back. Surely you’re perfectly within your rights to demand the whole thing back from them? Yet when it comes to hard-won workers’ rights, we’re expected to receive less than was taken from us and be glad of it.

That’s the feeling I get while making my way through the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices, the much-anticipated report into zero hour contracts, bogus self-employment and all the other ills that have blighted the British economy in recent years. I’ll be happy to give a more detailed breakdown of my views on it when I’ve had time to sit down with it in-depth. However, for the moment my first impressions are that of a missed opportunity.

Let’s talk first about what the Taylor Review hasn’t done. There’s no actionable plan to ban, or even severely curtail, the explosion in zero-hour contracts and other exploitative practices that have locked so many people out of permanent, full-time jobs. A “right to request” permanent or additional hours might sound good on paper, but without a solid legal framework to make sure both the letter and spirit of the measure is respected I fail to see what, if any, difference it will make. Hand in hand with this goes a lack of urgency on addressing workers being frozen out of employment tribunals due to high fees and other conditions. People from all sides of the political spectrum have shown how much of a barrier to justice these have been, and, while the report does acknowledge their unfairness, all it asks is that they are kept “under review”.

When we look at what the Taylor Review has done, the story doesn’t get much better. The review proposes a new employment classification of “dependant contractors”, effectively a middle ground between employed and self-employed. The idea is even floated that companies using such workers could be exempt from paying them the minimum wage in certain circumstances. This is an approach that I am very, very sceptical of. The unscrupulous companies that have driven the rise in bogus self-employment, of which the likes of Uber and Deliveroo are only the most prominent, have done so by forcing open a wholly artificial grey area between those who work for someone else and those who work for themselves. Giving this grey area legal sanction runs the risk of not only legitimising some of the worst excesses of the gig economy, but making it harder to crack down on other and further abuses in the future.

The real tragedy here is that the Review could have been so much more. Unfair working practices in the UK are largely a product of three separate but related issues; the imbalance in power between individuals and employers, the willingness of a minority of unscrupulous businesses to exploit this, and the reluctance of government to rebalance the scales through regulation and enforcement. The Taylor Review accepts wholeheartedly the first, appears to have a blind spot for the second and actively rejects the third. It says the right things and asks the right questions, but then pulls its punches on the tough but necessary answers.

That is unfortunate, not just for workers, but for the majority of businesses and employers who do play by the rules. Despite this, I remain optimistic. The Taylor Review might not be what was hoped for and needed, but it opens up space for demanding further and more radical action in the future. Let’s keep fighting the good fight, and make this the beginning of the end of the assault on workers’ rights in Britain.

Posted by: Executive Leader

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