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Does the government’s new ‘Good Work Plan’ do enough to upgrade workers’ rights?

The end of 2018 saw Business Secretary Greg Clark unveil a new piece of legislation: the ‘Good Work Plan’ which is being heralded as the “largest upgrade in a generation” to workers’ rights with an overall goal of cementing the “UK’s status as a world leader in workers’ rights now and well into the future.”

The ‘Good Work Plan’ is the government’s response to the recommendations made in the 2017 independent Taylor review of modern working practices which looked into issues in the UK’s labour market such as the implications of new forms of work, the rise of digital platforms and impacts of new working models.

Additionally, the new legislation is also the government’s reaction to the Labour Market Strategy set out by Sir David Metcalf, the Director of Labour Market Enforcement, which details plans to tackle exploitation of low paid workers.

Primarily, the ‘Good Work Plan’ aims to “ensure workers can access fair and decent work” and will “provide and give businesses greater clarity on their obligations and ensure the enforcement system is fair and fit for purpose.”

So, what changes does the ‘Good Work Plan’ legislation bring?

  • Workers have the right to a written statement of rights from day one setting out leave entitlements including sick, maternity and paternity leave and pay.

  • It guarantees workers the ability to request a stable contract after six months of work.

  • Larger fines for employers who violate the law. For employers who are demonstrated to have shown malice, spite or gross oversight maximum fines will rise from £5,000 to £20,000.

  • An end to the Swedish derogation loophole. This is a legal loophole which currently allows agency workers to be employed on cheaper rates than permanent counterparts.

  • An extension to the holiday pay reference period from 12 to 52 weeks, ensuring those in seasonal or atypical roles get the paid time off they are entitled to.

  • The bringing forward of proposals in early 2019 for a new single labour enforcement body to ensure vulnerable workers are better protected.

  • More resource for the Employment Agency Standards (EAS) Inspectorate, including creating new powers to impose penalties for employers who breach employment agency legislation like non-payment of wages.

  • The assurance that all tips left for workers go to them in full.

  • The assurance that workers are paid fairly by providing agency workers with a key facts page when they start work, including a clear breakdown of who pays them and any costs or charges to be deducted from their wages.

  • The enforcement of vulnerable workers’ holiday pay for the first time.

  • A new right to a payslip for all workers, including casual and zero-hour workers.

  • The introduction of a right for all workers, not just zero-hour and agency, to request a more predictable and stable contract, providing more financial security for those on flexible contracts.

  • The Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will take on a new responsibility to the ensure the ‘quality of work’.

  • The introduction of a new naming scheme for employers who fail to pay employment tribunal awards.

  • Further action to be taken to ensure unpaid interns are not doing the job of a worker.

So, this is all great news then?

Honestly, time will tell on many counts, however there is a clear positive that out of the 53 recommendations made by the Taylor Review, the ‘Good Work Plan’ does attempt to tackle 51 of them.

Although there are key changes not tackled in the reforms, especially amendments that many believe are necessary to improve the lives of those that work within the gig economy.

Two key recommendations not included in the ‘Good Work Plan’ are the proposal that “dependent contractors” (people who rely on a certain platform for their livelihood) can earn national minimum wage and enjoy the flexibility of the gig economy, and the recommendation that platforms used by gig economy workers should allow the user to take their “reputational history” between gig economy platforms to make finding work that much easier and to prevent over reliance on one particular platform.

Trade unions and campaigners certainly don’t feel the reforms are enough to protect the 1.1 million people in the UK who are considered gig economy workers.

They argue that the new legislation does not give a clearly defined definition of what a gig worker is, to make it easier to report and regulate, tackle the unpopular zero-hour contracts, change the presumption that people are self-employed, or give rights to gig economy workers to join a trade union for organising and bargaining.