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Taylor Review: Government should take the opportunity to make work truly transparent

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The government’s response to the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices heralds a chance to do something to help working people. Will they be bold enough to grasp this opportunity? 

We live in the information age, where the facts ought to be ours for the asking. Employers certainly know more and more about their workers performance, with many using IT to monitor output. So how is it that when it comes to vital information about your job, employers can often get away with keeping you in the dark, fudging the rules and even offering jobs that are so precarious that they don’t tell their staff whether they have work from one day to the next? It’s now time to put this right.

The government has today announced that it will consult on some aspects of the Taylor Review, with increasing transparency as one theme. Some proposals are welcome and need to be followed through, some are unlikely to help and there is still more that will need to happen before life at work becomes truly transparent. 

Right to a written statement of terms and conditions needed from day one

Let’s start with something that government has said that it might want to change. Employees are currently only entitled to a written statement showing their terms and conditions of employment within the first two months of employment. This must contain a range of information including about pay, working hours and holiday entitlements. 

A written statement is an important part of knowing what you are entitled to but:

  • The fact of the statement can be provided at any point in the first two months after starting work means that many employees in temporary employment miss out.
  • Workers who are not employees, such as freelancers and many working in the gig economy, are simply not entitled
  • When employers flout the law, the sole route to enforcement is for the employee to take an employment tribunal case – and then only if they are also complaining about a breach of another right.

Government has announced that it will consult on establishing a day-one right to a written statement, and whether the law should also apply to all workers not just employees This is welcome. 

If you are paid by the hour then your payslips must show hours worked

Similarly, the government proposes that workers should receive payslips showing hours worked.  Unions report that not showing hours is at best a sign of poor pay practice. At worst, it is done deliberately to make it harder for employees to query pay discrepancies. This has been a feature in complaints that care workers are not paid for travelling time or for sleep-ins.

Showing hours worked on payslips should be no trouble at all for a competent employer. They should be collecting this information accurately anyway for payroll purposes. Indeed, many already have it on their system but actively chose not to print the information on payslips. 

Government should go ahead and put this right without delay.

Employers need to be open about how they treat their workforces

At the moment, companies only have to report information on their directly-employed workforce and are not required to disclose any information on their use of agency, zero hours or short-hours contacts. This means that in some companies where a significant proportion of the total workforce are not directly employed, company reports present only a partial picture of the people whose work creates the company’s products and services. 

The Taylor Review recommended that companies should be required to report information on their employment model, their use of agency workers, and requests received from zero hours workers for fixed workers and from agency workers for permanent positions, plus the number agreed.

The government announced last year, as part of its corporate governance reforms, plans for requirements for larger companies (over 1,000 employees) to report on how they take account of employees and other stakeholders. This is welcome, but insufficient. Disappointingly, in today’s announcements the government adopts a ‘wait and see’ approach to further action on this.

Requiring companies to report on their entire workforce and their model of employment is long overdue. It is disappointing that the government has failed to recognise the importance of transparency in holding companies to account for their employment practices.

A right to request a permanent contract will not help zero hours contract workers 

The TUC questions whether the proposal for a right for zero-hours contract workers to request a ‘more predictable contract’ really amounts to a right at all. Those on zero hours contracts can be fired without notice or good cause by their employer. They will certainly very cautious indeed about requesting a different type of contract, since there is nothing to stop employers from “zeroing out” anybody who see they see as difficult, by simply not giving them any more work.

Our research shows that most zero hours contracts want permanent contracts. Zero hours contracts are used to exploit workers, so there should be no place for them in modern employment practice. 

Could the Low Pay Commission play a role?

The answer is certainly “yes”, but the TUC is not sure that it will be asked all the right questions. Government proposes to ask the LPC to look at setting premium minimum rates for non-contracted hours. 

We have long argued that employers should compensate their workers for non-contractual hours. The LPC could simply recommend a premium rate for any hours worked above contract. However, there is a danger that employers might avoid such a measure by paying very slightly above the minimum wage rate. It would be better if all workers received a premium for non-contractual hours.

Today’s proposals can also be criticised for being too narrow. We have also called for workers to be given notice of shifts and the right to be paid in full if their shift is cancelled at short notice.

The TUC has also argued that the LPC could play a role bringing together employers and trade unions to bargain wages above the minimum wage, better conditions and measures that would contribute to business success.

In an economy where the average worker is about £1,000 worse off than they were a decade ago, some drastic measures are needed. Today’s announcement is a small step in the right direction, but it should only be the start of the journey towards good work. 

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