Government Outlines New Employment Rules But Zero-Hours Contracts Remain

Government announces end to rules which allow agency staff to be paid less than permanent counterparts.
All workers will be legally entitled to 'plain english' explanations of their rights, under new rules.
All workers will be legally entitled to 'plain english' explanations of their rights, under new rules.
PA Wire/PA Images

The government has announced what it claims to be the biggest package of workplace reforms for over 20 years to meet the changing world of work, amid the rise of the so-called “gig-economy”.

Under new rules, workers will be given details of their rights, “in plain English”, from the first day in a job, such as eligibility for sick leave and pay and details of other types of paid leave, such as maternity and paternity.

Legislation will outlaw the ability for employers to pay agency staff less than their permanent counterparts.

And new rules will increase the maximum employment tribunal fines for employers demonstrated to have shown malice, spite or gross oversight from £5,000 to £20,000.

Measures will also be taken to ensure that seasonal workers, such as those picking fruit on farms, get the paid time off they are entitled to.

But the government will not outlaw controversial zero-hours contracts.

Business Secretary Greg Clark wrote in a blog on HuffPost UK that the reforms represent the “biggest upgrade in workers’ rights in a generation”.

He wrote: “We are repealing the Swedish derogation – which currently allows agency workers to be employed on cheaper rates than permanent counterparts; Ensuring every worker has the right to a plain English day one written statement of rights, to include detail on eligibility for sick leave, holiday pay and details of other types of paid leave, such as maternity and paternity leave; Quadrupling the maximum employment tribunal fines for employers who are demonstrated to have shown malice, spite or gross oversight from £5,000 to £20,000; and bringing forward proposals for a new single labour market enforcement body.”

The government said it was taking forward 51 of the 53 recommendations made by Matthew Taylor in his review into employment, especially in the so called gig economy.

A statement said: “The reforms announced today reflect the views expressed by Matthew Taylor in his review into Modern Working Practice that banning zero hours contracts in their totality would negatively impact more people than it helped; that the flexibility of ‘gig working’ is not incompatible with ensuring atypical workers have access to employment and social security protections.”

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Scrapping the agency worker loophole is a victory for union campaigning. It was an ‘undercutters’ charter’.

“But these reforms as a whole won’t shift the balance of power in the gig economy.

“Unless unions get the right to organise and bargain for workers in places like Uber and Amazon, too many working people will continue to be treated like disposable labour.

“The right to request guaranteed working hours is no right all. Zero-hours contract workers will have no more leverage than Oliver Twist. ”

Matthew Fell, CBI chief UK policy director, said: “Work that’s flexible and fair is essential to the success of the UK’s labour market.

“Focusing on issues like employee engagement, fairness and inclusion boost productivity as well as being the right thing to do.

“Businesses support a strong floor of workplace rights, and it’s right that these laws keep pace with changes in the economy and society.

“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.”

Rebecca Long Bailey, shadow business secretary, said: “This Conservative government has failed to support workers. Instead it has increased tribunal fees, attacked the health and safety of workers, introduced the draconian Trade Union Act and presided over the lowest wage growth in a decade.

“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.”

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: “These measures may help make working life a little more bearable for some. But put simply the government could and should have gone much further.

“Little will change to help the most exploited workers, and the most unscrupulous bosses are unlikely to start quaking in their boots.”

Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, said: “The government’s plans are reluctant baby steps at best, and hardly give confidence that post-Brexit UK will be a country of decent jobs.

“This is a time of historic low wages and of chronic job insecurity. We need proper, substantial action to combat this but what is on offer today falls well short of what this country needs to deliver work that pays.

“People on zero-hour contracts and workers in the insecure economy need much more than a weak right to request a contract and more predictable hours.”


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