Theresa May has announced flexible workers will be given enhanced rights following a government-ordered review into modern employment practices.
The prime minister says millions will benefit from improved sick and holiday pay and the right to ask for stable contracts under the Good Work plan, formed in response to the Taylor review, carried out by former Tony Blair adviser Matthew Taylor.
Taylor’s report, released in July last year, was branded “feeble” by many union chiefs and employment lawyers. It called for “dignity in the workplace” and protections for gig economy employees, such as those working for Uber and Deliveroo.
The government says the plan will put the UK at the forefront of good practice in a changing economy. It will not include minimum pay requirements or a ban on zero-hour contracts, but the Low Pay Commission will be asked to “consider” higher minimum wage rates for those on casual contracts.
Union bosses dismissed the move as a “baby step” and said much more radical reforms were needed, while Labour agreed the plans did not go far enough.
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “These plans won’t stop the hire and fire culture of zero-hours contracts or sham self-employment. And they will still leave 1.8 million workers excluded from key protections.
“Ministers need to up their game. At the very least they must end the Undercutters’ Charter that means agency workers can be paid less than permanent staff doing the same job.”
GMB boss Tim Roache said the proposals amounted to “trying to put out a forest fire with a water pistol”.
Shadow business minister Rebecca Long-Bailey said: “Like so much from this government, today’s response is just more words, with no real action to improve the lives of the millions of people in insecure work.
“Theresa May’s failure to strengthen workers’ rights is having a real impact on people’s lives. Only recently we heard of the devastating case of a gig economy worker, who died after being fined by DPD for attending urgent medical appointments.
“Labour warned that the review did not go far enough, and yet the government has failed to adequately meet even the most basic of recommendations.”
Ministers promised to consider “work quality” when agreeing new sector deals with industry to encourage employers to show how they are investing in workforces to improve productivity.
They also pledged to clamp down on sectors where unpaid interns are carrying out the jobs of workers and to name and shame employers who fail to pay out if they lose tribunals.
“We recognise the world of work is changing and we have to make sure we have the right structures in place to reflect those changes, enhancing the UK’s position as one of the best places in the world to do business,” the PM said.
“We are proud to have record levels of employment in this country but we must also ensure that workers’ rights are always upheld.
“Our response to this report will mean tangible progress towards that goal as we build an economy that works for everyone.”
Responding to the announcement, Taylor said much more needed to be done to improve working conditions for all UK employees, but that initial plans were “substantive and comprehensive”.
“It will make a difference to the lives of the most vulnerable workers and that is what matters,” he added.
“I welcome the range of specific commitments to improve the protections and rights of workers and to enforce those rights more strongly.
“On important issues, including pay for variable hours workers, employment status and representation of workers I welcome the direction indicated today, but there is more work to be done to encourage the government to be bold in living up to its commitment to good work for all.”