Deliveroo, an Uber-like platform that connects restaurants with delivery workers, is one of several UK companies whose employment practices have been the subjects of public scrutiny and litigation over the past two years as the country wrestle with the contradictions between its existing labor laws and the rise of the “gig economy.” Deliveroo was sued last year by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which argued that delivery couriers working through its platform were not self-employed independent contractors as the company contended. While plaintiffs in other gig economy classification suits have succeeded in the British court system, Deliveroo prevailed last November, when the Central Arbitration Committee found that its delivery workers were indeed self-employed, because they had a contractual right to allocate a substitute to do the work for them.
The IWGB appealed to the High Court of Justice, however, from which the union secured a ruling last week that it could pursue a partial judicial review of the CAC’s decision as a human rights issue, TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas reported on Thursday:
[T]he judge only gave permission for a judicial review on “limited grounds”, relating to whether certain categories of self-employed individuals should have the ability to unionize. “We have been given permission to argue that Deliveroo is breaching the human rights of our members. This is no longer an employment rights matter, this is a human rights matter,” a union rep said outside court after the ruling. …
The UK government has issued a series of policy proposals designed to bolster the rights of workers in the country, hinting at new legislation on how workers are classified as employees or contractors, new rights for agency workers, and updated minimum wage and living wage policies, Emily Burt reported at People Management last week:
The government said it would look to amend the Agency Workers Regulations 2010 to remove the opt-out for equal pay, preventing organisations from recruiting workers on extended agency contracts that keep them on low pay through the ‘Swedish derogation’ loophole for businesses recruiting through agencies. This followed a recent report into agency workers, published in March by the TUC, which found that six in 10 agency workers were employed for more than a year in the same role at the same workplace, driving pay levels down. …
The government responded to calls by MPs to bolster the position of precarious workers by exploring a pilot of a pay premium to the national minimum wage and national living wage for workers on non-contracted hours, assisted by the Low Pay Commission.
The proposals come less than a year after the Independent Review of Employment Practices in the Modern Economy, led by Matthew Taylor, a former advisor to Tony Blair, released its findings and recommendations on how regulators should handle the gig economy. In its proposals last week, the government adopted some of these recommendations and indicated that it was considering others:
The Women and Equalities Committee of the UK Parliament has initiated an inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace and what employers and the government can do to better prevent and address it. The inquiry will look at:
- action that the Government and employers can take to change workplace culture, increase confidence to report problems, and make tackling harassment a higher priority
- how staff can be better protected from sexual harassment by clients, customers and others
- how effective – and accessible – tribunals and other legal means of redress are, and what improvements could be made to those systems
- the pros and cons of using non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) in sexual harassment cases, and what can be done to prevent inappropriate use of NDAs.
In its announcement of the inquiry, the committee points to a recent survey conducted by ComRes on behalf of the BBC, which found that 40 percent of women in the UK have experienced some form of sexual harassment at work, with women in the 18-34 age demographic reporting slightly a higher rate of prevalence. Another study in 2016 came up with even higher numbers, finding that 52 percent of women (and 63 percent of those aged 16-24) had experienced unwanted behavior including groping, sexual advances and inappropriate jokes in the workplace.
The committee gathered oral evidence on the subject at a hearing in January, from a group of employment experts including the Confederation of British Industry’s Managing Director Neil Carberry and Ksenia Zheltoukhova, Head of Research at the CIPD. At that session, these experts stressed the importance of enabling victims of harassment to feel safe in reporting it, which means changing not only policy but also culture, as Carberry put it:
The UK government on Wednesday announced a series of planned labor market reforms to improve the working conditions and protect the rights of the millions of Britons employed in the gig economy and other flexible or contingent models of work, based on the findings of the Independent Review of Employment Practices in the Modern Economy, led by Matthew Taylor, which were published last July. The government says is intends to adopt almost all of the Taylor Review’s recommendations, the BBC reports:
The changes include stricter enforcement of holiday and sick pay rights, and higher fines for firms that breach contracts or mistreat staff. … The government says it is going further than the Review’s recommendations by:
- Enforcing holiday and sick pay entitlements
- Giving all workers the right to demand a payslip
- Allowing flexible workers to demand more stable contracts
The quantity and quality of jobs in the gig economy will be monitored and steps will be taken to make sure flexible workers are aware of their rights. The government is also asking the Low Pay Commission to consider a higher minimum wage for workers on zero-hour contracts, and says it may also repeal laws that allow agencies to employ workers on cheaper rates.
The reforms have not yet been fleshed out in much detail, while some of the plans announced on Wednesday involve not changing laws or regulations, but rather more strictly enforcing those already on the books. “The government’s plan will make sure that everyone knows what they’re entitled to when they start working for a company and the rules will now be enforced by HMRC, so people actually get what they’re owed,” BBC Business Correspondent Theo Leggett explains.
In an op-ed at the Guardian on Saturday, UK Prime Minister Theresa May pledged that her government would take further action this year to rein in what she described as abusive behavior by a minority of British companies that fail to safeguard their employees’ pensions:
In the spring, we will set out new tough new rules for executives who try to line their own pockets by putting their workers’ pensions at risk – an unacceptable abuse that we will end. By this time next year, all listed companies will have to reveal the pay ratio between bosses and workers. Companies will also have to explain how they take into account their employees’ interests at board level, giving unscrupulous employers nowhere to hide.
And, for the first time, businesses will have to demonstrate that they have taken into account the long-term consequences of their decisions. Too often, we’ve seen top executives reaping big bonuses for recklessly putting short-term profit ahead of long-term success. Our best businesses know that is not a responsible way to run a company and those who do so will be forced to explain themselves.
May’s announcement came days after Carillion, the UK’s second-largest construction company, went into compulsory liquidation. The collapse of the company puts as many as 43,000 jobs at risk worldwide, including 19,500 in the UK, and threatens to leave as many as 30,000 subcontractors unpaid. Carillion’s insolvency will also mean delays or disruptions in a number of major public-private partnerships in which the firm is involved.
As an early April deadline draws closer, reports continue to trickle in from organizations in the UK with over 250 employees that are now required to publish their gender pay gaps under rules that came into effect last year. The full list is available for download from the UK government and the press has been busy digging through it to see what the gap looks like at large, household-name brands, as well as to identify the worst offenders. Sky News reported last week that, as expected, most of the reports so far show male employees earning more, including those of some familiar companies:
Government figures show that men are paid nearly 65% more per hour at high street fashion store Phase Eight and nearly 52% more at EasyJet. Organisations with 250 or more workers must publish their figures by April, and so far 527 firms have done so. Nearly half of the organisations pay men at least one tenth more per hour and 426 of them pay men more, on average, per hour. …
Public sector bodies that show a wide divergence in pay per hour include the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital in Birmingham (men paid 34.8% more than women), and the Office for Nuclear Regulation (32.9%). Many of the firms in the top 20 in terms of those with biggest gaps are in financial services, including Virgin Money (32.5%), PriceWaterhouseCoopers (33.1%) and asset management firm Octopus Capital (38.1%).
In addition to financial services, businesses in the construction and information and communication technology sectors are reporting some of the widest gaps, the Financial Times has also reported. They add that a scant 70 employers, or 14.6 percent of those that had released their figures as of earlier this month, reported negative pay gaps as of January 1, most of which are smaller organizations working in health care and education. Nationwide, the median gender pay gap stood at 18.4 percent for all employees and 9.1 percent among full-time employees only.
A member of the Scottish National Party plans to urge his fellow MPs to support a bill in the UK parliament that would ban the use of zero-hours contracts, Emily Burt reports at People Management:
Chris Stephens, MP for Glasgow South West, has urged fellow parliamentarians to back his Workers (Definition and Rights) Bill 2017-19, which will receive its second reading in the House of Commons on 19 January. The SNP MP said his bill would ban zero-hours contracts, boost employment rights for gig economy workers and protect younger workers in an increasingly uncertain economy. …
Under the draft bill, a worker could only be employed on zero-hours terms where there was a specific agreement with their trade union. This goes further than recommendations made in Matthew Taylor’s Good Work: The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices, made earlier this year, which held back from endorsing a ban on zero-hours contracts, which it said would damage both employers and workers.
Instead, the Taylor Review had suggested introducing a higher minimum wage for employees on zero-hours and other flexible contracts. Stephens’s bill targets the issue of income stability among the UK workforce, but also comes in response to anxieties over the future of employment law in the UK after Brexit: