In the last 6 months I’ve dealt with 3 cases involving the National Minimum Wage. I’ve also come across a complicated annualised hours contract with a retrospective overtime clause which was clearly a thinly veiled attempt to evade the Living Wage. The significance is that I only saw 1 minimum wage case in the preceding 6 years. I’ve also had several conversations with employers about employment status and non-standard models of employment outside the current norms.
This is more than a coincidence. It reflects a growing awareness of what’s going on in the gig economy and a questioning of exactly where the boundaries lie. In this context it’s interesting that last October the Prime Minister commissioned a report by a working party established to consider how employment practices should change to keep up with modern business models (I’m trying hard not to think that brief might betray a tail wagging the dog). The work is being led by Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Arts. The period for giving evidence to the Taylor group has now closed but the Law Society has recently published it’s evidence and it makes interesting reading especially for anyone involved in HR.
As you’d expect, The Law Society doesn’t like Employment Tribunal fees and makes the point that if workers cannot access the rights given them by Parliament, it’s questionable whether those rights really exist. The society goes on to argue there’s an urgent need to reform how employment status is defined. It offers an alternative definition and suggests the Law Commission review employment status with the object of making it fairer, simpler and more relevant to current practices (tail and dog again?). Arguably the most eye-catching recommendation is that the Directorate of Labour Market Enforcement should have power to intervene in the labour market to ensure it remains fair. That means more than just reporting on a market sector; it envisages intervention in an organisation. Here’s a link to the Law Society’s document.
Of course there are many challenges here. One of those near the top of my list is that I know of organisations operating hybrid working arrangements in a thoroughly responsible and decent way for the benefit of both their workers and themselves. Such organisations deserve encouragement not regulation. Another is that notion of fairness which begs questions about how it might operate if it’s determined by a branch of the Executive answerable to a Secretary of State. While the Taylor group teases out the detail I can’t help wondering if the court of public opinion offers alternative remedies – which might be why Deliveroo has just said it’s considering concessions to its workers on sick pay.