-"Trying to put out a forest fire with a water pistol"
-"A wasted opportunity"
-"Just more words, with no real action"
These are just some of the reactions to the Government's press release and full response to the Taylor Good Work Review, published on 7 February. Even Matthew Taylor, author of the Review, was fainting damning in his praise, calling the response "substantive and comprehensive", but emphasising that there is still "more to be done". All of this is seemingly in stark contrast to the government's claim that "millions [are] to benefit from enhanced rights" as a result of their response. So, what are we to believe?
As a reminder, the Matthew Taylor Review into Modern Working Practices was published in July 2017, with the laudable if ambitious aim of encouraging the "country to sign up to the ambition of all work being good work". It contained wide-ranging recommendations covering employment status to zero-hours contracts to the enforcement of tribunal awards. Our commentary on the report can be found here.
In its press release, the government makes much of the fact that it has "acted on" all but one of Matthew Taylor's 53 recommendations. (Interestingly, the one it rejected outright concerned changes to National Insurance Contributions for self-employed workers, the government having had its fingers badly burnt with that one last year.) But what exactly does "acted on" actually mean?
Certainly, the government had something concrete to say on a small number of issues, including indicating it will:
- "assist" workers to enforce sickness and holiday rights;
- ask the Low Pay Commission to look at a proposal to pay a higher minimum wage for non-contracted hours;
- take "further action" to ensure unpaid interns are not doing the job of worker; and
- introduce a right for all workers to request "a more stable contract".
While these proposals will be good news for workers (assuming they actually see the light of day), currently there is not a huge amount of detail behind some of them and they don't particularly represent much in the way of "enhanced rights" as the government's press release suggested.
The reality is that no immediate changes to the law are going to come out of the government's response. Instead, much of what happens next will depend on the outcome of four new consultations which have been announced:
Employment status – seeking views on how to achieve greater clarity and certainty when determining whether someone is an employee, worker or self-employed contractor, as well as considering proposals in the Taylor Review to rename "workers" as "dependent contractors" and place greater emphasis on control rather than personal service.
Increasing transparency in the labour market – considering proposals to extend the right to a written statement of particulars to workers as well as employees, and the recommendation to increase the holiday pay reference period from 12 to 52 weeks.
Agency worker recommendations – looking at how to increase the transparency of contractual arrangements for agency workers.
Enforcement of employment rights – looking at how to enforce individual rights and tribunal awards.
If you wish to comment on any of these consultations, you can do so online by following the links above. Though note that, for no particularly obvious reason, each of the consultations closes on a slightly different date (ranging from 9 May to 1 June)
When it issued its response, the government assured parliament that "we are not consulting about whether we should do this; we are consulting about how we do it" (my emphasis). I would like to believe this. There were many proposals in the Taylor Review that have the potential to make a real difference to people's lives. And if anyone can straighten out employment status once and for all, I for one would be enormously grateful.
My concern (and I know I'm not alone in expressing this) is that some of these are complex issues and the government doesn't seem to consulting on any particularly firm proposals for how to resolve them. Rather, the consultations have the feel of (yet another) call for ideas / evidence, which slightly puts into question the purpose of the Taylor Review in the first place and has an inevitable impact on the timescales in which anything more concrete might happen. The government's plate is also quite frankly rather full at the moment; nor is it the most stable and cohesive of governments. Even if it has good intentions to implement many of the Taylor Review's recommendations, will it have the political strength to do so; will any of these consultations actually result in meaningful legislative change? I hope so, but ultimately it's a matter of watch this space and I don't recommend holding your breath while you do so.