With just a fortnight to go before the publication of his long-awaited review into modern working practices, Matthew Taylor has spoken of his support for the UK’s flexible labour market, which he described as the “envy” of Europe.
Addressing a conference on insecure work in London, Mr Taylor told the assembled trade unionists that the ability of people to work flexibly in ways that they want to work is a good thing. He added:
“One of the genuine considerations for my review, while thinking about exploitation and protection [of workers], was if it leads to a lot of people going onto the airwaves saying ‘This review is supposed to be protecting me; I don’t want to be protected if it stops me working the way I want’.”
This appears to be a reference to the representatives of the UK’s professional contracting community, whom Taylor and his panel members met during their UK-wide evidence-gathering tour.
Contributors included leading Umbrella Company trade association the Freelancer and Contractor Services Association (FCSA) and the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE).
Both emphasised to Mr Taylor’s panel that a clear distinction should be made between highly skilled, well-remunerated contracting professionals who have chosen to work on a project-by-project basis and a low-skilled ‘precariat’ who are vulnerable to exploitation in the more unethical recesses of the gig economy. The latter, IPSE and the FCSA agree, are in need of statutory protections, while the former typically choose to waive these in favour of flexibility and good pay rates.
Mr Taylor appears to have taken these contributions on board. He referred to “remarkably consistent” research findings demonstrating that between two-thirds and three-quarters of people working flexibly do so willingly. Contracting professionals, self-employed people and many temporary workers, he said, “choose to work that way, and woe betide anybody who acts in a way that makes it less possible to be able to work in that way.”
While the Trades Union Congress (TUC) is calling for a ban on mandatory zero hours contracts, Mr Taylor said that the review would not recommend such a prohibition, as it may end up preventing many people from working in the way that they wish to. This, he said, is a bad way of conducting public policy. He agreed, though, that eliminating “one-way flexibility” is a priority.
He also called for clear, legal distinctions between employees, the self-employed and freelance workers as well as reforms to make the tax system fairer.
Fulsomely endorsing “two-way flexibility,” Taylor revealed that his review would urge ministers to “preserve” and “enhance” such models.