The growing army of self-employed and temporary workers – a category that includes 1.7 million contracting professionals – in the UK may be protected by new laws, thanks to a review of employment rights announced by Prime Minister Theresa May.
Speaking on the eve of the Conservative party conference, May said the intention of the review is to make sure employment practices are keeping up with the modern world.
The Prime Minister has appointed Matthew Taylor, a former adviser to Tony Blair, to conduct the review, which will examine concerns that as many as six million people are missing out on standard workplace rights such as sick pay, pensions, holiday pay and maternity leave.
The review is also expected to assess whether growing practices such as zero-hours contracts are undermining the trade-off between employment benefits and flexibility, resulting in some workers losing out on all fronts.
The scope of the review may raise concerns among highly-skilled contracting professionals as well as business leaders. While the latter want a reduction in red tape following the UK voting to leave the European Union in June, contractors are likely to be concerned if the review fails to distinguish between low-skilled contingent workers, who may benefit from additional protections, and well-remunerated independent professionals.
Skilled professionals who have chosen to pursue contracting assignments as Umbrella Company Employees already receive employment benefits via their Umbrella Company, while others may be willing to sacrifice them in return for the higher pay rates they could command as permanent employees.
“Flexibility and innovation are a vital part of what makes our economy strong, but it is essential that these virtues are combined with the right support and protections for workers,” said May.
Noting that the UK has one of the strongest labour markets in the world, with unemployment at almost half the European average and record levels of people in work, she added: “That’s a proud record, but if we are to build a country that works for everyone – not just the privileged few – we need to be certain that employment regulation and practices are keeping pace with the changing world of work.”
The review will also consider whether self-employed and temporary/contracting workers are receiving the right training, whether they require different kinds of representation than that offered by traditional, employee-based trades unions, and whether technology can unleash new opportunities for the disabled and elderly.
“New forms of employment have many advantages for workers and consumers, but there are challenges and risks.,” said Taylor.
“We need to approach this issue with an open mind, recognising that within our flexible system of employment the same type of contract can have a diverse range of impacts on the people who use them.”