The Government describes its Good Work Plan as the ‘largest upgrade in a generation to workplace rights’ but it is a huge missed opportunity to tackle the blight of insecure work.
The Good Work Plan, published today (17 December), is the result of a number of consultations following Matthew Taylor’s review of Modern Working Practices published in July 2017. Prospect’s submissions to the consultations called for significant changes to employment law to give all workers, including freelancers, consultants and those in precarious employment, much stronger rights.
It is very disappointing that today’s announcements will do little to provide security and fairness for workers in precarious employment.
The recommendations in the Good Work Plan include some welcome news, but there is little substance on the key issues, and it simply does not address the real barriers to fairness at work.
Some of the key recommendations in the plan are:
- An intention to legislate for greater clarity on employment status (but no detail on what this will look like).
- Zero hours contract, agency, and other workers without fixed working patterns, will have a new right to request a ‘more predictable and stable’ contract after 26 weeks’ work.
- The existing right to a written statement of particulars of employment will be extended to all workers and will apply from day one of the working relationship.
- The current rule that a one week gap in the employment contract breaks continuity of employment for statutory rights (such as notice pay, redundancy pay and unfair dismissal) will be changed so that a gap of up to four weeks will not be held to break continuous employment.
- The Government will repeal the legislation that allows employers to pay agency workers less than those employed directly by the organisation, the so-called Swedish derogation. (This is excellent news and a tribute to the extensive campaigning by the TUC).
- New legislation will be introduced to ban employers from making deductions from staff tips.
The plan does little to address the ever-growing problem of employment status. It worryingly refers to clarifying the test through legislation and introducing an online tool for establishing whether a worker is an employee or not. This could unpick many of the improved rights unions have secured through hard-fought victories in the courts.
Prospect urged the Government not to legislate for a test to determine employment status. We were alarmed that this could create a ‘tick box’ approach to rights, with employers able to use loop holes to avoid employment protections. Instead we recommended that employment rights should be extended to all workers and that rights should apply from day one of employment. This would have made a real difference to countless workers and it is something we will continue to campaign for.
A new ‘right to request’ a stable contract after 26 weeks employment is nowhere near sufficient. There is no provision in place to prevent an employer from artificially breaking employment and avoiding these rights altogether. Without the means of challenging an employer’s refusal to grant the request, there will be little real change.
The right to information and consultation is to be extended to cover all workers and employees, and the threshold of workers required to trigger consultation will be lowered from 10% to 2%. But this is, of course, no substitute to extending the rights to collective bargaining and giving workers a real voice at work, as Prospect has lobbied for. Full rights to union recognition and representation would truly give workers better protection at work.
Overall, while many of the changes are welcome, they are only minor improvements and fall a long way short of what is required. The Government has failed to address the biggest issue of employment status and vulnerable working practices, and some of its changes may actually make things worse. We will continue to campaign on our members’ behalf until these problems are satisfactorily addressed.