The Taylor Review: Welcome, But Ultimately Inadequate.
Last week saw the long awaited Taylor Review into modern working practices within the “gig economy”. The reports author, Matthew Taylor harbours the ambition that all work “should be fair and decent with a realistic scope for development and fulfilment” (2017). Although it is the case that some of the proposed legislative changes would grant employees increased benefits, the Review fails to tackle the key issues of insecure work, workers rights and employee-employer relations.
As of today there are an estimated 1.1 million people who work in the ever-expanding gig economy (Booth, 2017). For many of those working in the gig economy, the insecurity of work denies them the ability to simply plan their life from one week to the next. Others will defend this situation citing increased “flexibility”, and it is certainly true that some people enjoy the choice of when they work. However, it is also the case that there are valid concerns about the low pay and harsh exploitative business models that companies like Uber and Deliveroo rely upon. It is highly questionable that a company does not deliberately plan a business model that needs over 50% of employees from agencies (Roache, 2017). As such, the debate rests upon whether employees benefit from the increased flexibility, or are in fact exploited, under-paid and lacking basic employment rights (Bell, 2017). Over the past year there have been numerous legal cases and protests over the business practices that are commonplace in the gig economy. Indeed, the Government told Deliveroo that they must pay employees the minimum wage unless a court were to rule that they were self-employed (Goodley, 2016). Nevertheless, even when the law has ruled in favour of employees, the companies will challenge such a decision. The lack of legislation and regulation means that companies are in a position to dodge the question of minimum pay, holiday and sick pay. This has led the Shadow Business Secretary to state that she refuses to use Uber as she doesn’t ‘feel that it’s morally acceptable… they are exploiting their workers’ (Long-Bailey, 2017).
Perhaps the single biggest issue within the gig economy is job insecurity, of which the Taylor Review is severely lacking in recommendations. Indeed, the Review dodges the issue of zero-hour contracts completely. When an employee on a zero-hour contract is working regular hours, there is simply no reason why they shouldn’t receive a contract that reflects such a situation. Precarious and insecure work is not an inevitable conclusion of the gig economy, and other countries such as New Zealand (under a centre right government) have outlawed them altogether. One proposal that appears in the review is that of the “right to request” guaranteed hours. However, in reality this is no right for employees at all, as during such a request an employee would still have to pay £1,200 before taking the case to a tribunal (O’Grady, 2017).
A further recommendation from Taylor is that the government should implement legislation for self-employed workers who are under “control” of a company to be classified as a “dependent contractor”. This would enable workers to receive holiday and sick pay, in addition to pay equal to the minimum wage. However, due to the capitalist models companies rely upon, this would mean increased taxi fares and more expensive takeaways, unless they are prepared to incorporate the costs themselves (Booth, 2017). Furthermore, the Review suggests that firms should be able to pay “dependent contractors” less than the minimum wage in times of decreased business (Rawlinson, 2017). Taylor proposes this idea in order to stop firms introducing shift work, again highlighting the need for flexibility. This documents the imbalance between individuals and employees. In the report Taylor posits that ‘when employers hold more power than employees, this can lead to poorer working conditions and lower wage levels’ (2017). However, he also states that the way to achieve good quality work is not increased regulation, but good management and corporate governance. At present, workers have working practices imposed upon them, whereas a companies right to “manage” is left unquestioned. It is arguably the case that better work is created when workers are empowered to reject oppressive jobs and employers, and are in a situation to have the option of choosing better ones.
George Osborne, during his time as Chancellor of the Exchequer attempted to portray the Conservatives as the “true workers party” (Parker, 2015). However, the UK is currently in its longest squeeze in wages since the Napoleonic era (Jones, 2017). Pay currently stands at 3.3% below its pre financial-crisis peak, and for under 40’s it remains 10% down (Bell, 2017). The “dependent contractor” status signals a willingness to adhere to a companies every need, and cave into their claim that they are unable to pay workers a fair wage. The Taylor Review is a welcome addition to the debate regarding the changing world of work, however it fails to deliver the sufficient remedies workers in the gig economy need. It is certainly better than nothing, but workers are still left with a precarious employment status, insufficient rights and remain vulnerable to employer exploitation. Taylor has ultimately proposed changes that are design to nudge and motivate employers to use fairer employment models, but this is simply inadequate. The report has arguably diagnosed many problems within the gig economy, but does little to challenge the UK economies engrained nature of low-pay, low-productivity and extensive hours. Ultimately, the Review is a missed opportunity, and the debate needs to be shifted in order to articulate the need for expanding the welfare state, strengthening the power of trade unions and increasing government investment.
Bell, T (2017) It’s good to focus on overtime, not just Uber. Resolution Foundation. Available at: http://www.resolutionfoundation.org/media/blog/its-good-to-focus-on-overtime-not-just-uber/
Booth, R (2017) Gig economy review delivers benefits but brings no job security. The Guardian [Online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/jul/11/gig-economy-review-delivers-benefits-but-brings-no-job-security
Goodley, S (2016) Deliveroo told it must pay workers the minimum wage. The Guardian [Online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/aug/14/deliveroo-told-it-must-pay-workers-minimum-wage
Jones, O (2017) The Taylor review could make things for workers. What a surprise. The Guardian [Online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/11/taylor-review-workers-tories-gig-economy
Long-Bailey, R (2017) Labour’s Rebecca Long-Bailey ‘won’t use morally wrong Uber’ BBC News [Online]. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-40567387
O’Grady, F (2017) The Taylor Review isn’t the ‘game-changer’ that gig economy workers need. Touchstone [Online]. Available at: http://touchstoneblog.org.uk/2017/07/taylor-review-isnt-game-changer-gig-economy-workers-need/
Parker, G (2015) George Osborne Swaggers Into The Centre Ground. Financial Times [Online]. Available at: https://www.ft.com/content/ae0bb63c-6b74-11e5-8171-ba1968cf791a?mhq5j=e2
Rawlinson, K (2017) Uber is not morally acceptable, says shadow business secretary. The Guardian [Online]. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/jul/11/uber-is-not-morally-acceptable-says-shadow-business-secretary
Taylor, M (2017) Good Work: The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices. Available at: https://www.thersa.org/globalassets/pdfs/reports/good-work-taylor-review-into-modern-working-practices.pdf