Will the Taylor Review help workers in the gig economy?
Matthew Taylor’s review of modern employment practices was published on 11th July. Taylor, a former adviser to Tony Blair, had been appointed by Theresa May to chair an independent review in October 2016. Writing for The Guardian, on accepting the role, Taylor declared he would “tell Theresa May what’s wrong with modern work”. So did he?
Somehow during the seven month long investigation, the parameters of the review changed. An investigation into business working practices that are “continually stretching the limits of our employment rules” by Taylor’s own admission, morphed into a debate about work quality and an acceptance that the current framework of employment law “works reasonably well”.
The report starts from the premise that high levels of flexibility are a good thing. It advocates light-touch regulation, labelling this as the “British way” and claims that this is a key strength of the UK economy. The role of trade unions is largely absent and there is an underlying assumption that working in the gig economy is an active choice that most workers are satisfied with. Could this have been anything to do with a key member of Taylor’s team being an investor in Deliveroo who didn’t sell his shares until four months into the review?
Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, said: “I worry that many gig economy employers will be breathing a sigh of relief ... it doesn’t look like the report’s recommendations will shift the balance of power in the modern workplace.”
The omissions in the report are striking - it doesn’t call for an end to exploitative Zero Hours Contracts; it doesn’t call for a repeal of Employment Tribunal fees and it doesn’t call for trade unions to have the right to access workplaces. For these, you need to read the Labour Party’s latest manifesto instead.
It does propose giving agency workers the right to request a direct contract of employment if they have worked for the same hirer for twelve months and workers on zero hours contracts for twelve months the right to request guaranteed hours based on actual hours worked. This sounds positive but the key word is “request”. A request can be refused and many precarious workers are too frightened to raise issues with their employers for fear of losing their job or having their hours cut.
Taylor also suggests that gig workers should be covered by minimum wage legislation. Again, this seems promising but the mechanism for delivery is fundamentally flawed. His solution is to adapt the piece rates legislation and calculating pay rates by output, i.e. the number of tasks performed. This fails to take into account barriers that might impede task completion, for example, encountering traffic jams when delivering parcels. To add insult to injury, the calculation of average delivery times will be worked out using the data held by the employer’s platform. This data is completely skewed. As a BBC investigation into conditions for delivery drivers for Amazon reveals, delivery drivers are speeding, working when ill and not stopping for toilet breaks. Taylor even offers businesses a get-out clause, writing: “if an individual knowingly chooses to work through a platform at times of low demand, then he or she should take some responsibility for this decision”. Who will be defining the periods of low demand? It certainly won’t be the worker.
Was this a missed opportunity? Undoubtedly. Should we be disappointed? No. As Owen Jones points out: “feeling disappointed by the Tories’ Taylor review would be an act of pure naivety. As a political force, the Tories exist to defend the interests of employers and those with wealth and power.”
Trade unions should get together to draw up their own proposals for dealing with the gig economy as Dave Ward is calling for “and agree a common bargaining agenda, publish a trade union manifesto on what constitutes a new deal for workers and construct a proper plan - including deliverable action - to achieve it”.
CWU Research Department