Recommendations fail to guarantee the human rights of the workforce in the UK

The Taylor Report on the modern workforce was published earlier this week to mixed reviews.

There was some criticism for a report that many feel is too cautious to enact real change for workers in precarious, low-paid work. Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC, stressed that this “is not the game-changer needed” and some have lamented that the report rests on changes to corporate culture, rather than new regulations. Others have welcomed the report and see this an opportunity to build on these recommendations to enact real change for the workforce.

Some of the headline recommendations are:

  • Low Pay Commission tasked with examining how a higher NMW rate might apply to non-guaranteed hours
  • Recommends a new category of worker called a “dependent contractor”
  • Despite giving an interview to the Today programme saying that tribunal fees shouldn’t be so high, Taylor doesn’t recommend any changes to fees. He does suggest that people should be entitled to a free tribunal to find out what their employment status is.
  • Calls for the government to close a legal loophole that allows temporary staff from agencies to be paid less than direct employees doing the same job (so-called “Swedish derogation”)

Although many of these recommendations represent a step in the right direction, it’s true that this report stops well short of a human rights based approach to employment and will bring little comfort to those already fearing for our hard-won employment rights post-Brexit.

Much of this isn’t new information and there are some areas where the report falls short of what has come before.

For example, Oxfam’s research has found that the second biggest priority for Scotland in terms of ‘decent work’ is job security in the sense of having a permanent, secure contract. This report will provide little added security.

The idea of ‘effective voice’ is a central part of Scotland’s Fair Work Framework. From this work, we know from merely the right to ask for guaranteed hours, as Taylor suggests, isn’t sufficient without a surrounding culture of openness. Without a genuine dialogue, people will no doubt remain wary of ‘causing problems’ on a zero hour contract, fearful of potentially losing the hours they currently receive. For this reason, it is debatable how many individuals will utilise their ‘right’ to ask for fixed hours.

While putting some emphasis on pay, the report on its own will not provide answers to in-work poverty (one in eight workers are living in poverty) or progression (three in four low paid people fail to escape low pay over ten year and low paid employees are also four times less likely to receive training from their employer compared to better paid colleagues). This needs additional focus moving forward.

In many ways, this report renders the goal of fair and decent work a laudable ambition, rather than an achievable reality. It’s also disappointing that there are no real mention of the human rights of our workforce.

Nevertheless, it is a positive step that attention has been placed on the quality of work in the UK, not just unemployment rates. It is up to the UK Government, the Scottish Government and the third sector to push these principles and build on the recommendations.

For the Scottish Government in particular, this is a prime opportunity to restate their commitment to fair, decent work and to promote a model of employment that guarantees the human rights of people working in Scotland. Taken as a platform on which to build, there are positives to be taken from this Report. Taken as the end point in a journey, we’d surely be left disappointed.