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Latest Workplace reforms do not go far enough

Prisca Bradley
reforms

The Government’s workplace reforms to do go far enough – they do not go so far as banning zero-hour contracts. Contributor Prisca Bradley, Director and Head of Employment – Hedges Law.

Given that the tribunal system is already creaking under the strain of a huge increase in claims since the abolition of fees, the government could have been more robust to stem likely further litigation in this area of zero-hour contracts.

The announcement of greater rights for those operating in the ‘gig economy’ will be welcomed by the 1.1m workers in this sector.  The cases fought in the courts over the last few years demonstrate the significant imbalance of power in the working relationship and the need for greater controls and protection. The type of ‘flexibility’ offered by the ‘gig economy’ is not a panacea for the so-called rigidity of modern employment relationships as suggested and many individuals have been unaware of the rights they forego when entering into these types of contract.

The reforms go some way to addressing the imbalances but not far enough. The new legislation will mean that agency workers are to be paid the same as permanent employees, which had been planned for some time.

More interestingly, businesses will have to provide a “statement of rights” on the first day of employment, setting out entitlements to paid leave, including for illness, maternity and paternity leave.

The calculations for holiday pay will now be based on 52 weeks, as opposed to 12 weeks, so those who are affected by fluctuations in hours are treated more fairly in relation to paid time off.

The new reforms however do not go as far as banning zero-hours contracts which was debated during consultation. Taylor commented earlier this year that ‘flexibility has to be balanced with other objectives like social inclusion, social justice and fiscal sustainability’.

Given that the tribunal system is already creaking under the strain of a huge increase in claims since the abolition of fees, the government could have been more robust to stem likely further litigation in this area.  The Unions are also unsurprisingly concerned at the lack of union recognition and collective consultation for those who work for the big gig economy businesses such as Uber, Amazon or Deliveroo as there remain widespread concerns about the poor working conditions.

In relation to the right to request guaranteed hours – this may just be in effect a ‘paper’ right only: the imbalance of power and the fear of negative repercussions will mean that those vulnerable workers will end up just not bothering to ask.   Just as the current right to request flexible working which was introduced several years ago did not revolutionise the working landscape for those wishing or needing to do so, this right to request secure hours is predicted not to have any real impact. In the end, real change in this area might come not only from a legislative framework but also from ethically informed consumer purchasing choices.


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