Zero Hours Contracts and Worker Status Reforms Stuck in the Mire

There appears to have been very little movement on zero hours contracts and worker status reforms despite various consultations, published reviews, policy papers and the mention of a new Employment Bill in the 2019 Queen’s Speech.

Reform Delays

The Good Work Plan

On 17 December 2018, the government published its policy paper, the Good Work Plan. This set out what the government described as “the biggest package of workplace reforms for over 20 years”. It built on the response given by the government to the Taylor Review in February 2018 and the government’s strategy was set out in three main themes:

  • fair and decent work;
  • clarity for employers and workers; and
  • fairer enforcement.

To help UK Employers prepare, we summarised the key aspects of The Good Work Plan that came into effect from 6 April 2020 – What UK Employers Need to Know About the Good Work Plan

Zero Hours Contracts Reform

Also included in The Good Work Plan were several commitments specifically relating to zero hours contracts including a right for those on zero-hours or other flexible contracts to request a more stable and predictable contract and making it easier for casual staff to establish continuity of employment.

In its Spring 2022 Labour Market Outlook survey of employers, the CIPD added several questions to the survey, specifically relating to the use of zero hours contracts, and on 11 August 2022 it published a new report titled Zero-hours contracts: Evolution and current status.  The report, which suggests that the number of workers engaged on zero hours contracts is small, accounting for about 3% of total employment, and has changed little since 2015, reflects on how zero hours contracts are used and considers their benefits and drawbacks for employers and workers.

The report concludes by making four recommendations:

  • Introduce a right for variable hours workers to request a more stable contract or working arrangement after they have been employed for six months.
  • Create a statutory code of practice on the responsible management of zero hours workers, including a requirement to pay compensation if workers’ shifts are cancelled at short notice.
  • Improve labour market enforcement, including through the creation of a single enforcement body and a stronger focus on supporting employer compliance.
  • Abolish worker status to help clarify and enhance employment rights for zero hours workers and more widely.

Employment Status Reform

Employment status was the subject of a standalone consultation in February 2018 and was also one of the key areas looked at in the Taylor Review.  The Taylor Review proposed that the definition of “worker” needed to be clearer and more consistent, and that workers who were not employees should be renamed in the legislation as “dependent contractors”. It also proposed that there should be less emphasis on personal service, and more emphasis on control, in defining the relationship between an employer and a dependent contractor. This is because of concern that employers are putting a right of substitution into contracts in order to defeat arguments over worker status.

A commitment to refine employment status tests and for an online status tool to be developed were included in the government’s policy paper, The Good Work Plan, and the government suggested that it would “legislate to improve the clarity of the employment status tests, reflecting the reality of modern working relationships”.

However, the government response to the standalone consultation was not published until July 2022, and when it finally appeared it had very little to say about how it intended to produce the clarity of the employment status tests and it suggested that the benefits of creating a new system would be outweighed by the risks associated with legislative reform.

In July 2022, the government confirmed that it would not be reforming legislation in this area or aligning the employment law and tax status tests (there is no third category of “worker” for tax purposes). It instead published new guidance designed to improve clarity around employment status, which comprises three parts:

Employment status and employment rights: guidance for HR professionals, legal professionals and other groups (Detailed status guidance).

Employment status and rights: support for individuals (Guidance for individuals).

Employment status and rights: checklist for employers and other engagers (Guidance for employers).

The guidance is non-statutory and does not change the legal position. The introduction to the detailed status guidance emphasises that only a court or tribunal can make a final decision on employment status for employment rights purposes.

The Employment Bill

The recommendations in the CIPD report mirror those that were previously set out in previous reviews and the Good Work Plan in 2018, and it was expected that the much-awaited Employment Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech in December 2019 would see many of the recommendations implemented.

On 23 March 2021 the government confirmed that the Employment Bill would not be introduced in that parliamentary session and that it would be introduced when parliamentary time allows.  There was no mention of the Employment Bill in the two subsequent Queen’s Speeches (May 2021 and May 2022) and no timeframe for when the Bill may be introduced has been provided.

On 14 June 2022, Lord Callanan, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), reconfirmed that the Employment Bill will be delivered “when parliamentary time allows”, and suggested that the government is considering alternative options for delivering its manifesto commitments outside of the anticipated Employment Bill.

Whether the government finds time to move forward with its Employment Bill remains to be seen but, in the meantime, the unresolved issues surrounding zero hours contracts and employment status will continue to present challenges for employers and workers alike and resolving disputes in these areas may ultimately be up to the courts and tribunals.

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Calls for Menstrual Leave and Better Workplace Support in the UK

Following approval by Spanish politicians of a draft Bill to provide three days of paid leave for people with severe period pain, UK menstruation and period pain charities have called on the UK government to introduce menstruation leave.

Currently under UK law, those who experience period pain should use their sick leave for time off work. Period charity, Bloody Good Period, suggest more is needed to support those who have painful periods. According to the charity, 73% of people who menstruate have struggled to complete their work as they would like due to their periods and for 79% of respondents, this is due to pain. In addition to menstrual leave, they call on the government to “improve communications, culture and broader policy around periods in the workplace” and ensure employers have a better understanding of the range of challenging period symptoms.

Endometriosis UK supports people who have the condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other places, such as the ovaries. The charity has said that the culture of “squeamishness and silence around menstrual health” must be challenged and that those experiencing pain which affects their work should be able to expect that they will be listened to, believed and supported.

“Working people need more than vague promises” says the Trade Union Congress

Summary of the Queens speech 2017: What it means for you

The Queens speech was delivered on the 21st of June 2017 in the House of Parliament. The purpose of this speech was to define the Minority Government’s legislative programme that the UK will see take effect over the next two years.

Regarding employment issues, the speech revealed details on the Governments plans previously pledged in the General Election, however, not all pledges appeared to remain.

The speech commenced on the issue of Brexit, her Majesty stated: “My government’s priority is to secure the best possible deal as the country leaves the European Union.

“My ministers are committed to working with Parliament, the devolved administrations, business and others to build the widest possible consensus on the country’s future outside the European Union.

“A bill will be introduced to repeal the European Communities Act and provide certainty for individuals and businesses.”

It has been announced that the UK will continue to attract “the brightest and the best” however, this will be based on a new Immigration Bill which will see the end to EU rules on free movement for EU nationals in the UK. Further, EU nationals and their families will now be governed under UK legislation following Brexit.

In relation to technical education, the minority Government have planned to implement 15 technical education routes, which include “T-Levels”, these will be prepared based on standards required from employers.

In May 2017, the Conservative Party had pledged to introduce ethnicity pay gap reporting, however, the Queen failed to go into great detail on this in her speech. She stated: “My Government will make further progress to tackle gender pay gap and discrimination against people on the basis of their race, faith, gender, disability and sexual orientation.”

The Conservative Party’s general election manifesto involved the extension of protections under the Equality Act 2010. At present, an individual must have suffered for 12 or more months for it to be classed as a disability under equality legislation. The Tory’s had pledged to cut this requirement…… There was no further mention of this in the Governments legislative plans on Wednesday.

In addition, the Government have failed to mention scrapping the 1% pay cap on public service workers, despite the pressure that has been put on the Prime Minister since losing out on a majority Government.

In response to the speech, Frances O’Grady who is the General Secretary of the Trade Union Congress commented: “The election showed that working people are fed up with an economy that doesn’t work for them – but the government still isn’t listening.”

“The Queen’s Speech makes vague promises but says nothing about the changes working people need right now – like banning zero hours contracts or making gig economy employers treat their workers fairly.”

“Nor is there anything in this Queen’s Speech to end the year-on-year real-terms pay cuts that are hitting brave and dedicated public servants, and pushing nurses into using foodbanks.”

“Workers’ rights will be put at risk by the Great Repeal Bill. It will allow ministers to bypass parliament and erode rights that come from the EU – like paid holiday and protections for part-time and agency workers. The bill must contain a specific provision to stop ministers going back and undermining the rights of working people.”

How Can We Help?

If you are unsure about how these potential changes to employment law might affect your business, or simply want to check your company’s compliance generally, contact us and we will undertake a full review of your current arrangements and provide you with our findings and recommendations. Call us now for your free consultation – 0800 612 4772

Government publishes Parental Leave Bill

On the 13th October, the UK Government published a bill offering parents 2 weeks paid leave should they suffer the loss of a child.

The Parental Bereavement (Pay and Leave) Bill was introduced by Kevin Hollinrake, MP and offers a day-one right to bereavement leave for any employed parent who loses a child under the age of 18.

In order to be eligible for statutory bereavement pay the bill states that employees will be required to have served a minimum of 26 weeks continuous service with their employer.

The bill is set to receive a second reading in Parliament this week, with the aim of it becoming law in 2020.

“We want parents to feel properly supported by their employer when they go through this deeply distressing ordeal of losing a child. That’s why the Government is backing this bill which goes significantly further than most countries in providing this kind of workplace right for employees” said Margot James, Business Minister.

Kevin Hollinrake added further: “Sadly I have had constitutes who have gone through this dreadful experience and while some parents prefer to carry on working, others need time off. This new law will give employed parents a legal right to two weeks paid leave, giving them that all important time and space away from work to grieve at such a desperately sad time.”

The head of Public Policy of the CIPD, Ben Willmott, said: “Our research shows many employers already offer their staff paid bereavement leave. This new law will build on this, so all bereaved parents of children under the age of 18 will have the reassurance of knowing they don’t have to worry while they grieve for loved ones in the immediate aftermath of such a tragedy.”

At present, there is currently no legal requirement for employers to pay employees who take time off to grieve, although a majority of employers do. The Employment Rights Act provides that employees have a day-one right to a “reasonable” amount of unpaid work in the event of an emergency involving a dependent. This includes making arrangements after the death of a dependent.

How can Employment Law Services (ELS) help?

If you require employment law advice on any of the issues raised in this article, or any other employment issue give us a call today on 0370 218 5662.  You can also find out more about our fixed fee HR packages here and fixed fee employment law packages here, or get in touch.

What do employers need to know about the Taylor Review?

What do employers need to know about the Taylor Review?

“The Taylor Review: What employers need to know” was published first by Personnel Today.

What is the Taylor Review?

Matthew Taylor, who is the former advisor to Tony Blair, has conducted a review with the aim of setting out recommendations in hope of improving the employment market in the UK.

The highly anticipated review “Good Work: The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices” was launched in 2016 and published on the 11th July 2017. The fundamental purpose of this publication is to achieve a deeper understanding of how labour market practices function across various industries and sectors, determine what impact technology and the expansion of ‘gig economy’ workers are having on working practices and assess the impact that these developments have within the current framework of employment legislation in the UK.

On launching the review, Taylor said: “Our national performance on the quantity of work is strong. But quantity alone is not enough for a thriving economy and fair society. We believe now is the time to complement that commitment to creating jobs with the goal of creating better jobs.”

“Despite the impact of the national living wage and tax credits, there will always be people who are in work but finding it hard to make ends meet. Our social contract with those people should include dignity at work and the realistic scope to progress in the labour market.”

Despite this, the review has been slammed by trade unions and employment law specialists. France O’Grady, General Secretary for the Trade Union Congress said: “I worry that many gig economy employers will be breathing a sigh of relief this morning.

“From what we’ve seen, this review is not the game-changer needed to end insecurity and exploitation at work.

“We’d welcome any nuggets of good news, but it doesn’t look like the report will shift the balance of power in the modern workplace.”

The review pushes for a “significant shift in the quality of work in the UK economy” and makes several suggestions on how employment law can support this.

Key Principles of the Good Work Review

(1)  The UK ought to aim for “good work for all” this means an equal balance of rights and responsibilities between the employer and individual. With protections in place for all individuals;

(2)  Two-way flexibility which is to give workers further protections whilst safeguarding fairness for those working in platforms;

(3)  Legislation should be implemented to make it easier for employers when making the right choices, whilst ensuring individuals have help and guidance when it comes to exercising their rights;

(4)  The most efficient way to obtain a better work force is through responsible corporate governance, good management and strong employee relations;

(5)  Every individual should be given attainable methods in order to help develop and strengthen their work prospects;

(6)  Employers should promote a proactive approach to workplace health;

(7)  All individuals should not be trapped at the minimum living wage resulting in financial insecurity.

Tim Roache, GMB general secretary, states: “The recommendations show some laudable aims on the surface – and of course any progress in basic employment rights is welcome – but as a whole it’s a disappointing missed opportunity.

“Everyone can pay lip service to wanting good quality, well-paid work but employers could offer that right here and now – they simply choose not to. They won’t decide to do so just because they’re asked nicely.”

What impact is the Taylor Review likely to have on employment?

The review is clear in its approach, focusing heavily on the ‘Gig Economy’ and its recommendations on how the law ought to be changed to accommodate this. Additionally, it is evident that by changing the law on employment status and implementing protections for casual workers and those employed on zero hour contracts, if enforced, would have a significant impact on the employment market in the UK.

However, it is important to note that this review is simply recommendations and is yet to be a policy document adopted by the Government.

Theresa May was reported to state that she will commit to taking “this agenda forward in the months ahead” and has been seen to invite all parties to “engage with difficult issues” highlighted in the review.

At present, the Government has yet to act on these recommendations therefore organisations do not need to take any immediate action. However, it may be useful to start considering potential developments and plan appropriately.

How Employment Law Services (ELS) Can Help Employers

Employers concerned about any of the issues raised in this article can take advantage of Employment Law Services (ELS) free consultation service – call us today to arrange your free consultation – 0800 612 4772.

“Some Self-Employed workers should be covered by the National Minimum Wage” – Resolution Foundation Report

Resolution Foundation Report

The Resolution Foundation has published a report arguing for a better pay deal for those working in the Gig-Economy.

The report argues that the Government ought to extend minimum wage legislation to cover the self-employed workforce in order to tackle low pay and insecurity in the UK.

As part of their submission to Taylor’s Review of Modern Practices, the Resolution Foundation have suggested “the minimum required”. The proposal suggests that a number of recommendations to end endemic levels of pay among self-employed.

The report identifies that 21% (1 in 5) employees are low paid, in 2016 49% of those who are self-employed fell below the UK’s typical weekly earnings, making less than £310 a week.

The Government have pledged to introduce the National Living Wage in the next few years in hope that it will reduce low pay among employees. It has been suggested that those who work under a self-employed status will miss out in this event because they will not be entitled to it.

However, the Resolution Foundation has cautioned that if low pay rules are not changed organisations might start employing individuals on self-employed contracts as a way of dodging having to pay the legal minimum wage.

The Data Analyser for Resolution Foundations was reported to state: “The number of people who are self-employed has increased decently over the last 10 years, we used to ask if these people were self-employed because they couldn’t find other employment or if it was by choice. Now the conversation has moved on. We need to ask if this rise in self-employment is a good thing and what we can do to help them in their long-term interests.

Jason Moyer – Lee who is the General Secretary of the independent workers in Great Britain argued that unless legislation is enforced by the Government it is useless.

“Most people in the gig economy, in my experience have been bogusly categorised as independent contractors.” The law, as it currently stands, is in favour of these workers, but employers face no consequence what so ever if they ignore it.” He said.

He recommends that the Government ought to fine employers who disobey the law and that tribunal fees should be abolished. Stating further: “It’s nearly impossible for workers to access a tribunal and there is no Government enforcement, it is no surprised that gig-economy businesses are blatantly disregarding the law.”

How Employment Law Services (ELS) Can Help Employers

Employers concerned about any of the issues raised in this article can take advantage of Employment Law Services (ELS) free consultation service – call us today to arrange your free consultation – 0800 612 4772.