It was always likely to happen and now it has – the much awaited publication of The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices called ‘Good Work’ eschews using serious state intervention to fix the worst excesses of exploitation in the modern neo-liberal labour market in Britain.
In Theresa May choosing Matthew Taylor, former adviser to Tony Blair, the likelihood that the review would recommend the required – and extensive – state intervention through legislation and punitive enforcement regimes was pretty much nil. Despite the publicity that surrounds the one of the few tangible suggestions, namely, creating the ‘dependent’ contractor status so that nominally self-employed workers (like couriers) will receive holiday pay, sick pay and the minimum wage, the tenor of the entirety of the report is given away by the summary of the report. In one of its ‘seven steps’, the report opines:
The best way to achieve better work is not national regulation but responsible corporate governance, good management and strong employment relations within the organisation, which is why it is important that companies are seen to take good work seriously and are open about their practices and that all workers are able to be engaged and heard.
In other words, the government is being encouraged by a nominally independent review to merely carry on doing what it is already doing – coaxing, encouraging, cajoling and exhorting employers to be nicer and better to their employees for their own sake as well as those of the employees – but all without the force of law.
The history of the deregulation of the labour market in Britain since 1979 is a very sorry tale of employers now being able to get away pretty much with what they want. And when some of their excesses become politically embarrassing as has been the case with Sports Direct, rather than re-introduce the types of regimes of regulation and enforcement of old, successive governments have asked employers to be a bit nicer. Even the reforms of the Labour governments from 1997 to 2010 did not alter this hegemonic pattern. Indeed, the introduction of the minimum wage in 1998 has legitimised low pay by providing a floor for it.
When Theresa May made her pitch to be Tory leader and prime minister in the summer of 2016 after David Cameron’s departure, she promised to make work pay, provide job security and the like. Ever since, her actions have never matched the intent of her rhetoric. This has now become writ large with the Taylor report.
And, to boot, the report and however May takes it forward – assuming she is in office long enough – will do little turn the Conservatives into the ‘workers’ party’ as she and other top Tories have stated it would become. The dogma that ‘business knows best’ is just so deeply ingrained in the Tories as to be part of their DNA.
Consequently, the report will only strengthen the belief of many – most obviously including the unions – that only a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell can bring about the return of social democracy where the states intervenes in the processes and outcomes of the labour market in order to ameliorate them. Put in plainer language, only Corbyn offers a means by which the working poor and those at the sharp end of the labour market will be protected from the worst excesses of Tory-inspired deregulation.