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New government flexible worker safeguards mean little will change, unions claim



Unions and Labour have rounded on government plans to establish a right to clarity on workers’ rights in the so-called gig economy, saying they do not go far enough.

The business secretary said the proposals represented the biggest shake-up for a generation to meet changing demands in the workplace – and built on reforms outlined earlier in the year.

Greg Clark said they included the end of a legal loophole that meant agency workers could be paid less than permanent staff.

The legislation would also mean that all employees – including temporary staff – would secure details of their rights to things like holiday and sick pay from their first day in a job.


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There would be rights to paid time off for seasonal workers, the government said, while maximum employment tribunal fines for rogue employers would rise from £5,000 to £20,000.

Unions say the reforms do not sufficiently address the concerns of gig economy workers, with one claiming that “little will change” under the new rules.

The Department for Business said it was taking forward 51 or the 53 recommendations made by the Taylor Review of employment law, ordered in the wake of anger over the treatment of workers in the flexible labour market – at companies such as Deliveroo and Uber which need riders and drivers on a demand-led basis.

It had stopped short of recommending a ban on controversial ‘zero-hour’ contracts, that give no guarantees of hours, on the grounds that it risked hurting more people than it would have helped.

But Mr Clark said it was right more protections were put in place.

“The UK has a labour market of which we can be proud,” he said.

“We have the highest employment rate on record, increased participation amongst historically under-represent groups and wages growing at their fastest pace in almost a decade.

“This success has been underpinned by policies and employment law which strikes an effective balance between flexibility and worker protections but the world of work is changing, bringing new opportunities for innovative businesses
and new business models to flourish, creating jobs across the country and boosting our economy.


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“Today’s largest upgrade in workers’ rights in over a generation is a key part of building a labour market that continues to reward people for hard work, that celebrates good employers and is boosting productivity and earning potential across the UK.”

Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey responded: “These proposals do nothing to tackle the growing number of people on precarious zero hours contracts and with their botched Brexit deal threatening jobs and rights they’ll have to do a lot more than this to reassure workers.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady welcomed the scrapping of the agency worker loophole, saying it had proved an “undercutters’ charter”, but said the bulk of the reforms stopped short of offering real protections..

Her Unison counterpart, Dave Prentis, said: “Little will change to help the most exploited workers, and the most
unscrupulous bosses are unlikely to start quaking in their boots.”

The CBI’s chief UK policy director, Matthew Fell, said business reaction was mixed.

“They welcome a new law giving all workers the right to request more predictable working hours which will help to facilitate the conversations that are essential to ensuring flexibility benefits both parties.

“However, legislation to amend employment status rules risks making the law less able to adapt to new forms of work in the future.”

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