The government’s Taylor review into the labour market and workers’ rights in the gig economy has been attacked as “feeble” by Thompsons Solicitors. The Guardian’s Owen Jones said that feeling disappointed by the Tories’ Taylor review is “an act of pure naivety.” TUC general secretary Frances O’ Grady added that the review wasn’t “the game-changer needed to end insecurity and exploitation at work.” 

The report was ordered by Theresa May in October last year and has taken nine months to produce. Speaking at the launch of the Taylor report today, Theresa May said that the report “contains ideas that would give people more job security.” She also said that “banning zero-hours contracts would do more harm than good” and that they should not be “used to exploit people.” A Conservative government “will always be on the side of hard workers and good employees,” she stated. May promised that the government would look at the report carefully in the summer and respond to it in detail later this year. 

The Prime Minister’s response to the Taylor report failed to appease political journalists. The Times’ Patrick Kidd tweeted that “Theresa May's relaunch speech today was pretty same-old: full of platitudes, little detail, only two questions from the press. Sigh.” Paul Waugh from Huffington Post said on Twitter: “Nothing bold so far in May response to Taylor report. Tone of speech long way from her attacks on business last yr. Sounds Osborneite-lite.” The Independent’s Rob Merrick found May’s admittance that she will be unable to implement the Taylor gig economy stuff, problematic

What is the Mathew Taylor review?

In October 2016, Theresa May announced that an independent review on the state of modern work chaired by Matthew Taylor would offer an overview of the changing conditions of the labour market. The review addresses the UK Labour market’s challenges and considers how new forms of work have shaped or changed worker rights and responsibilities, freedoms and obligations.

What does it say?

The report, titled “Good Work: The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices,” stated that it was based on the premise that “All work in the UK economy should be fair and decent with realistic scope for development and fulfilment.” However, the report made sure to clarify that under current conditions, the labour market is changing and the landscape is very different than it used to be: “self-employment is rising, innovative forms of working are causing us to question established norms and how our current legislative framework fits with these developments. These changes have impacts for ordinary people, who may be less certain about their rights, or who might feel that the system doesn’t accommodate the reality of their working relationships. It also has impacts for the state, which sees the fiscal impact of rising self-employment and incorporation.” The report’s recommendations that will enable a significant shift in the quality of work in the UK economy focussed on dealing with exploitation at work, employees’ rights, and aligning the labour market’s incentives with wider national objectives.

In the current labour market, the report highlighted changes “in the degree of part-time working and self-employment” as examples of the “‘atypical’ work that features heavily in the current labour market narrative. However, ‘traditional’ full-time employment as an employee as a proportion of total employment continues to dominate the UK labour market and has only declined 1.6 percentage points from 64.6% to 63.0% over the last twenty years.” The report summarised the various types of atypical work, characterised by part-time working, self-employment, agency work, temporary work, zero hours contracts (usually younger people aged 16-24), multi-jobs and gig economy work.

What is the gig economy?

Gig economy refers to temporary and flexible jobs where freelancers are the norm rather than the traditional full-time and permanent employee. The name gig comes from the fact that each piece of work is like an individual “gig.” Essentially, the gig economy is based on app platforms that arrange work piece-by-piece. This is why the gig economy, also known as platform economy, refers to such jobs as delivery couriers, Uber drivers and cleaners who work for tech startup companies. 

As the report clarifies: the “gig economy tends to refer to people using apps to sell their labour. The most commonly used examples are Uber and Deliveroo but there are many and a growing number of platforms facilitating working in this way.” 

The problem with such a model of labour is that workers are contractors who are offered no guarantees of pay or how much money they will earn. The review suggests relabelling workers as “dependent contractors,” who are eligible for workers’ rights and are able to earn the national minimum wage. The report also adds that this category of people should also be entitled to sick leave and paid holidays. However, workers should be entitled to rights such as sick pay, especially when many gig economy workers are denied their rights.

Talking about Uber, the American tech company that operates the Uber car transportation and food delivery mobile apps, Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey accused the taxi service for exploitation of its employees and its immoral practices: “I don’t like the way that they are exploiting their workers, and I think the recent case proved that in the courts, that suggested that the workers that were there were in fact workers, and they weren’t flexible workers, and they needed to be given the adequate amount of protection and rights that workers enjoy. I don’t want to see companies model their operation on the Uber model. Uber, for example, have been exploiting workers, and exploiting flexible arrangements that are in place. And it’s important to have flexibility in the workplace, but it has to be two-way flexibility. It has to be flexibility that’s enjoyed by the worker and the employer.”

Interestingly enough, as the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) pointed out, one of the reviewers of the Taylor report was an early investor in Deliveroo—the British online food delivery company and one of the early “gig” employers. The review proposes ideas but does not necessarily commit to implementing these. The TUC fears that the report’s piece rates—rates of payment for each unit produced or action performed—might be damaging for workers who might “get paid less for not completing their set quota of jobs.”

The report was described by Len McCluskey, the leader of the Unite union as a “failure” because it doesn’t address the growth in forced self-employment and the fact that many workers are denied “sick pay, holiday pay, their basic rights and a pension.” For McCluskey, the report confirmed that “insecurity is the inevitable new norm.” The Taylor report recognised that working people want well paid work, dignity and security, and many of the proposals will have a positive effect if implemented, but for many it felt that it brushed aside workers’ interests, in order to benefit those of businesses. For others, it “got the right balance” and it remains to be seen how much the government and parliament are willing to support and eventually put into practice.