Monday marked four years since the Taylor review into modern working practices was officially launched. Despite accepting 51 out of its 53 recommendations, the government has only legislated for seven. At a time when we are witnessing a rise in insecure work due to the economic fallout from Covid, it is crucially important to revisit the review. Its overriding ambition – that “all work in the UK economy should be fair and decent with realistic scope for development and fulfilment” – should be at the heart of plans for an inclusive recovery.
Instead, we are seeing the opposite beginning to happen, with the crisis having a disproportionate economic impact on women, ethnic minorities, young people and the lowest paid. The number of people on zero-hours contracts has also increased by almost 20% to a record high of 1.05 million compared to last year. Our recovery from this crisis must curb this and refocus efforts towards building towards the goal of good work for all. The Taylor review recommendations were a step in the right direction.
Four years on, the government has failed to make the meaningful changes to employment practices we need. Its failure to act also played its part in reducing the resilience of jobs going into the pandemic. Too many entered the crisis in an already precarious position. Covid has exposed the chronic failure to protect workers’ rights, from health and safety law to national minimum wage enforcement. Workplace inspections have been rare too and prosecutions even rarer. The Chancellor said last week that the economic emergency has just begun. He should try telling that to those who have been out of work since March, and others who have seen their terms and conditions hit by unacceptable fire and rehire practices.
That is why we have been waiting for the employment bill to come before parliament, to be able to debate and legislate on these issues. This is even more critical as employment will be one of the biggest challenges our country faces next year, with unemployment forecast to rise to 7.5%. But our parliamentary questions reveal that the employment bill, which the government claimed would “make Britain the best place in the world to work”, now appears to have been kicked into the long grass at a time when changes to employment law are more urgent than ever. The bill will not address the full scourge of the gig economy, but it would give us the chance to push for all workers to be entitled to a basic level of support and protection, as well as greater rights for workers to address the imbalance of power in the workplace.
As it plans for the recovery, the government needs to retrain workers and rebuild business. The future of work must mean fair work alongside a social security system fit for purpose. All workers should have a comprehensive set of rights and protections to enhance their experience of work and address inequality, while trade unions must have a central place in speaking for workers and giving them a voice. Economic justice can only be achieved when good workplace relations are established, underpinned with strong laws and mechanisms that enrich the lives of workers and reward them fairly.
Current employment law has left millions of workers without financial support and security, with many more working in unsafe conditions. This is why we need an explicit commitment of good work for all in our recovery, stemming from the creation of new high-quality green jobs, enhanced employment rights, and effective and inclusive employment support measures.