In General

The Taylor Review into modern employment practices has now heard from a prominent academic who has studied contracting and self-employment extensively. His advice: steer clear of a broad “one-policy-fits-all” approach.

Professor Andrew Burke, Dean of Trinity Business School at Trinity College Dublin and Chair of the Centre for Research on Self-Employment (CRSE) think tank, spoke with Taylor Review members in Belfast last week. He urged the Government to take account of the diversity among self-employed people and craft public policies that are specifically tailored to the various subdivisions comprising this workforce.

In a starkly worded warning, he said: “Broad-brush, one-size-fits-all policy approaches to the treatment of taxation and rights for the self-employed are very dangerous and carry a great risk to the UK economy. The highly skilled self-employed make a significant economic contribution, which shouldn’t be undervalued.”

The Taylor Review is currently conducting a ten-event evidence-gathering tour of the UK. Professor Burke gave his address at the fourth of these events, presenting evidence along with guests from Northern Ireland TUC, Northern Ireland Citizen Advice and Uber.

Acknowledging that safeguards are necessary for low-skilled workers, a “precariat” who are sometimes manipulated into bogus self-employment, Professor Burke maintained that sound policy should simultaneously protect the freedom and legitimacy of higher-skilled freelancers.

These skilled contracting professionals are, he explained, “privileged” in the sense that they can typically command higher incomes than employees, providing diverse expertise at variable costs to hirers. Their contributions ultimately catalyse economic growth and stimulate job creation. As such, they are “a key driver of the UK economy.”

Professor Burke was emphatic that legislation designed to safeguard the rights of the “vulnerable” end of the self-employed spectrum or prevent false self-employment must not prevent high-end freelancers and contractors from doing what they currently do: add huge value to businesses. Companies must not be deterred from using these workers for fear of being unfairly stigmatised, he said, adding: “Freelancers are distinguished by their ability to do project-based work, receiving payment for the output of their work and having multiple clients.”

A fortnight ago, Julia Kermode, CEO of the Freelancer and Contractor Services Association, met with Taylor Review panellists in Coventry and used the opportunity to highlight the benefits of Umbrella Companies to contracting professionals and hirers.

Drawing Review members’ attention to the fact that most of the 23 per cent of the workforce engaged in non-permanent forms of work have positively chosen to work that way, she underlined the fact that compliant Umbrella Companies are completely transparent in their dealings with workers.

Umbrella Company Employees, she explained, are provided with a clear contract of employment and enjoy all the statutory rights and benefits of salaried workers.

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