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Contractors, freelancers and agency workers need better rights at work

Contractors, freelancers and agency workers need better rights at work

A man with a box of employment items

The nature of the labour market has been changing for several decades but the situation has become more complex in recent times because of the growth of zero hours contracts and the rise of platform-based work (as seen in recent high-profile cases with Uber, Deliveroo and Pimlico Plumbers).

This means that the nature of trade union membership is also changing. Prospect represents many workers who are employed in atypical working arrangements, such as contractors, freelancers and agency workers and we are determined to ensure they are empowered, supported and protected.

Taylor review

In July 2017, Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts, published his review of modern working practices which focused largely on those in atypical employment.

The government responded to the review in February 2018 and opened a consultation on four areas:

  • employment status
  • agency workers
  • transparency in the labour market
  • enforcing employment rights

Prospect considered the government’s response and submitted its own comments on the government’s proposals. 

We considered all the issues alongside colleagues from other unions and eminent employment lawyer, Michael Ford QC. We also had the opportunity to put forward our views, face-to-face, with the government officials who are leading on the consultation proposals.    

Throughout the consultation, Prospect made it clear that we welcome the review and the opportunity to engage with government as employment status has long been a problem for workers and their employers.

However, Prospect did express its concerns that the government’s proposals do not go far enough. The current rules provide scope for employers to create sham arrangements to deny workers their rights to employment protection. 

One proposal mooted by government is to codify the test for worker status in legislation. 

In a judgment handed down on 13 June, in the long-running case against Pimlico Plumbers, the Supreme Court reiterated the fact that we must look at the reality of the employment relationship – crucial for ensuring that sham arrangements are foiled. 

The Supreme Court ruled that the claimant was a worker and therefore should have all the associated rights.

Prospect and TUC colleagues are concerned that if the test for worker status was set in legislation, employers seeking to avoid granting their workers employment rights would use it as a checklist. It could also limit an employment tribunal’s ability to consider the reality of the circumstances of the working relationship. 

Full employment rights from day one

If the government is serious about addressing the current uncertainty about worker status, one way to do this would be to give all workers full employment rights from day one of their employment. 

Prospect and the TUC have been advocating for this for a long time, but the government seems reluctant to accept this approach. 

These issues are not confined to the workplace. Insecure employment brings financial insecurity and can often have a detrimental effect on workers’ welfare and that of their families. 

We want decision makers to use this consultation as a real opportunity to address the significant imbalances that exist in the labour market and protect those in the most vulnerable forms of employment. 

Prospect and other trade union colleagues are uniquely placed to communicate the experiences of our members to government. 

Our submissions are founded on evidence and informed by the concerns raised by our members across a variety of sectors and industries. This gives us a unique insight into the world of work. 

Workers coming together through their union and using their collective voice means that we are a powerful stakeholder in these discussions – let’s hope the government chooses to listen!

For more information, read Prospect’s submissions here.


The response to the Taylor review is part of Prospect’s wider effort to persuade government that we need to reform our economy so it works better for working people. This included a report we published earlier this year with think tank ResPublica arguing for policies to reverse the decline of collective bargaining in the private sector. You can read that report here.

Frances Cusack

Frances Cusack


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