Unions less than ecstatic as Taylor extols virtues of flexible work

Two weeks ahead of the publication of his long-awaited government review, Matthew Taylor has voiced his support for Britain’s flexible labour market and allowing people to work in the way that they choose.

Speaking to trade unionists at a conference on insecure work in London, Taylor said “overall flexibility of people to work in the ways they want to work is a good thing”.

“One of the genuine considerations for my review, while thinking about exploitation and protection [of workers], was if it leads to a lot of people going onto the airwaves saying ‘this review is supposed to be protecting me, I don’t want to be protected if it stops me working the way I want’,” he continued.

Taylor, a former adviser to ex-Prime Minister Tony Blair, was appointed by the government last year to conduct a review into how employment practices need to change in response to the rise of the so-called gig economy, including the growth of self-employment and zero-hours contracts.

Taylor said it was important to recognise that those people wanted to work in that way”, and that research was “remarkably consistent” that around two-thirds and three-quarters of flexible workers – contractors, self-employed and temporary workers – “choose to work that way and woe betide anybody who acts in a way that makes it less possible to be able to work in that way”.

Taylor want on to say that Britain’s flexible labour was the envy of many countries. 

Taylor’s comments received a less than enthusiastic response from trade unionists at the conference.

Asked what she liked about Taylor’s speech, Hannah Reed, senior employment rights officer at the TUC, told Recruiter she welcomed that Taylor had engaged with the issue of insecure work and acknowledged the importance of his review and report.

However, Reed said the TUC’s own estimates revealed a different picture to those cited by Taylor. 

According to figures published in a TUC report launched yesterday, 3.2m people face insecurity at work either because they are working on a contract that does not guarantee regular hours or a regular income, or because they are in low-paid self-employment, with official statistics showing this number has risen by 27% since 2011. 

“The TUC has done its own survey of people and their experience which showed that a significant proportion, many millions don’t have any real choice in how many hours they work and how much pay they take home, which makes it impossible to plan their lives,” said Reed. 

Reed said it was “critical” for the government to take action to tackle the problem “so that flexibility is not just a one-way street, but both sides benefit from genuine flexibility in the workplace”.

“Self-employment should be a matter of choice. Our concern is that people are being forced into self-employment even though they are being told when to work and how to their job,” Reed added.

Two trade unionists questioned Taylor’s claim that the lowest-paid workers were seeing the biggest rise in their remuneration as a result of the tightening of the labour market and the living wage.

Earlier, TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said that job insecurity exemplified by zero-hours contracts, aided by “dodgy agencies”, and the growth of self-employment and loss of employment rights, was having a “devastating impact on people’s lives”. 

In his address to the conference Taylor outlined the three key areas of his review: exploitation and how to tackle it so that flexibility works for both employers and workers; the tax system, which has led to the growth of bogus self-employment; and the principle that quality of work matters as much as the quantity of work. 

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