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Inquiry into the future world of work and workers rights

27th October 2016

Recent years have witnessed significant changes in the world of work. In particular there has been a growth in self-employment, agency working, and different business models-such as Uber. The Governments own figures indicate that the number of people in part-time employment is 8.58 million (representing a rise on previous figures), that the number of people that are self-employed stands at 4.79 million (also a rise on the previous figures), and that 1.66 million people work in temporary work arrangements- also a rise on the previous quarter's figure.

The trends indicate that these changes will effect more and more people in the future, as well as the way in which people purchase and provide services. These changes present challenges to the existing patterns of employment law rights, and this is highlighted by recent court cases which have involved arguments over the the definitions of "employee" and "worker". The meaning of these terms is important as different legal rights apply to "employees" to those that apply to "workers" and to those that are genuinely self-employed. It is therefore perhaps no surprise that these developments have at last come to the attention of Parliament.

The Committee for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (formerly BIS) has launched an inquiry into the future of work, focusing on the rapidly changing nature of work, the status and rights of agency workers, the self-employed, and the "gig"economy. In addition the inquiry will look into further issues such as low-pay, and poor working conditions associated with people working in non-traditional employee roles. The inquiry follows the recent examination of working conditions and practices at Sports Direct, and the Committee's inquiry into the digital economy. The inquiry also follows the increasing questions being raised over the status of people working in the "on-demand" economy, for businesses such as Uber and Deliveroo. 

The inquiry focuses attention on a number of questions:-

1. is the term "worker" defined sufficiently clearly in the law at present, and if not how should it be defined? It goes on to then ask what the status and rights of workers should be, for those that are casual workers and those working in the "gig"economy, for the purposes of tax, benefits and employment law),

2. For those working in the "gig" economy is the balance of benefits between worker and employer appropriate? 

3. What specific provision should there be for the protection of agency workers and those that are not employees? Who should be responsible for such provision?

4. What differences should there be between levels of Government support for the self-employed and for employees, for example over statutory sick pay, holiday pay, employee pensions, maternity pay? How should these rights be changed to ensure a fair protection for workers at work?

5. Is there evidence that businesses are treating agency workers unfairly compared with employees?

6. Should there be steps taken to constrain the use by business of agency workers?

7. What are the issues surrounding terms and conditions of employees, including zero-hours contracts, definitions of flexible contracts, and minimum wage enforcement?

8. What is the role of Trade Unions in representing the self-employed and those not working in traditional roles?

The Government is inviting written representations by the 19th December 2016 on these questions. It is important that the Government gets to grips with the changing nature of the world of work. Even though the majority of the UK's workforce still work as traditional employees, the rate of increase in alternative models of working is such that millions of people are now effected, as are a growing number of businesses. All of them need clarity over the rights and responsibilities that they have, so these issues will only grow in importance in the future.

At Hallett Employment Law Services Ltd we can provide help in dealing with issues over the status of workers, whether you are a business or an individual seeking to understand or enforce your rights and responsibilities.          

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