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Swift Action is Needed in Response to Taylor Review

Paid holiday is a significant benefit to us all.

But for those on low pay, it can mean the difference between making your rent or not and being able to take time off.  Nevertheless, many individuals are wrongly being denied key rights such as this. 

The issue has been in the news recently as the government promised an overhaul of employment rights to improve conditions for workers, including those in the gig economy.

The vow is a response by the government to last year’s Taylor Review into working practices.

Matthew Taylor was a former adviser to Tony Blair. He examined the regulation of companies in the so-called gig economy, such as Uber and Deliveroo.  These companies, and many others, have been taken to Employment Tribunals by individuals who have sought clarity on their employment status and therefore the rights they are entitled to. In many cases the tribunal has found that the companies were wrong to treat them as self-employed and that they are in fact workers entitling them to them additional key rights such as holiday pay, sick pay and the right to the minimum wage.

What’s been announced?

Changes announced by the government this month include enforcement by HMRC of holiday and sick pay rights, a new right to a payslip for agency workers increasing transparency as to who pays them and any costs deducted from wages and increasing Employment Tribunal fines against employers to £20,000. 

Business Secretary Greg Clark said the measures would “address very clearly” the rights of those in insecure work.

He told the BBC that very often a worker did not have the ability to challenge or force a company to follow the law saying: “We will be enforcing the rights that people have and are entitled to.”

He added that the government wants to embrace new ways of working and to do so will be one of the first countries to prepare their employment rules to reflect the new challenges.

What does this announcement actually mean though?

We certainly welcome any changes that will actually improve the rights of vulnerable workers. However, the measures announced are very short on detail and any timescale in which they will be implemented. Also, a key part of the Taylor review was to look at the problem of individuals’ employment status and ways of avoiding them having to bring claims against large companies just to establish what their rights are. Matthew Taylor did make recommendations on this core issue but the government’s response does not make any comment on the proposals. Instead they are going to launch a consultation about it, stalling any further progress at the current time. In the meantime those most vulnerable remain unprotected and unaware of what their rights might be. 

Also, the government has sadly missed the opportunity to put the onus on an employer to prove that an individual claiming worker or employment rights is not entitled to them.  Currently the burden is on the individual to prove that they are entitled to such rights. Given the inequality of their positions and the complexity of the legal issues, this would have been a positive step forward. 

People need to have a clear idea of what their rights are and what they’re entitled to in the first place. What we have seen so far sadly fails to clarify this.

While this week’s announcement is clearly a step in the right direction, there is still so much to be done.

Harriet Bowtell is an employment lawyer at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.

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