Workers (Definition and Rights) Bill – Scottish Nationalist Party

Our experts drafted a Bill for the Scottish Nationalist Party based on the recommendations of the Manifesto for Labour Law.

Drawing on recommendations from the Manifesto for Labour Law, IER Chair John Hendy QC and IER President Professor Keith Ewing drafted the Workers (Definition and Rights) Bill 2017-2019 on behalf of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP).

The Bill was brought in the House of Commons by SNP MP Chris Stephens on 18 October 2017. It aimed to protect workers against exploitation by employers using zero-hour contracts and false ‘self-employment’ following a rise in these forms of insecure work, particularly in the so-called ‘gig economy’.

Chris Stephens, SNP MP for Glasgow South, asked the IER to draft the Workers (Definition and Rights) Bill

Why is the Bill needed?

The Bill seeks to introduce a new universal employment status of ‘worker’ to replace the current delineation between ’employees’ and ‘workers’. It also strengthens the rights that all people in employment receive.

This would make it more difficult for gig employers like ‘Uber’ to falsely categorise their staff as ‘self-employed’, as well as effectively banning the exploitation of people on zero-hour contracts.

What needs to be done

There has been much debate over the last few years as to the best way to tackle the issue of workers being misclassified as ‘self-employed’ and, as a result, having their rights unlawfully withheld.

As well as providing an elegant solution to that problem, the Institute of Employment Rights wants to go further and protect those classified as ‘workers’ from exploitation too.

We believe there is no reason why a person working through an agency should have fewer rights than their colleagues in the same job who have been hired via different means.

We also think it is unfair for so-called ‘casual’ workers, such as those currently on zero-hours contracts, should take on so much financial risk in the name of “flexibility”. Our Bill sought to provide a regular wage for everybody in employment.

  • What is employment status?

    Your employment status is a legal term that describes the relationship between you and your employer. There are currently three employment statuses in UK law:

    • Employee refers to a traditional employment relationship and generally refers to permanent staff with guaranteed hours who are hired directly by the employer. Employees have access to all employment rights, although not straight away. Some protections, such as the right to claim unfair dismissal, don’t take effect until you have been with the same employer for two years!
    • Worker refers to the relationship between an employer and a temporary or ad hoc member of staff who is not ‘self-employed’ or a contractor. This term generally refers to agency workers and those on zero-hours contracts. Workers have minimal employment rights, including the National Minimum Wage, holiday pay and rest breaks.
    • Self-employed refers to people who are in business of their own accord, such as contractors and employers. People who are self-employed do not have workers’ rights.
  • Who decides your employment status?

    Employment status is a legal term used to describe your actual relationship with your employer in practice, so employers cannot unilaterally decide which rights you are eligible for. Wherever there is disagreement over employment status, it’s a matter for the courts.

    Often, and particularly in recent years as the ‘gig economy’ has grown, the courts have found employers unlawfully treating their staff as if they have a different employment status than they do. For instance, Uber argues that its drivers are self-employed contractors who are running their own microbusinesses, but UK law defines Uber drivers as workers – and therefore eligible for workers’ rights.

If fairness is not nailed down in legislation and enforced, there will always be employers who push their advantage to the limit and beyond.

Chris Stephens MP, Scottish Nationalist Party

What does the Bill say?

The Workers (Definition and Rights) Bill provided for a clearer definition of a ‘worker’ as it pertains to eligibility for employment rights, a clearer definition of an ’employer’, and stronger rights for all.


  • A universal definition of ‘worker’, which would apply to everybody in employment except for the genuinely self-employed.
  • A definition of ’employer’ covering all people with staff that are not self-employed, regardless of whether that person was hired directly or through an employment agency
  • An onus on the employer to prove those working for them are self-employed if employment status is disputed

Stronger rights

  • A right to a minimum number of regular and fixed hours, with up to 10% more hours provided by the law as overtime to meet the needs of businesses that experience peaks and troughs in demand
  • Reasonable notice of shifts and rotas
  • A premium rate of pay for overtime
  • Compensation when shifts are cancelled at short notice

Where we are

The Bill gained cross-party support from Neil Gray (SNP), Mhairi Black (SNP), Grahame Morris (Labour), Ruth George (Labour), Deidre Brock (SNP), Tommy Sheppard (SNP), Albert Owen (Labour), Kirsty Blackman (SNP), Jonathan Edwards (Plaid Cymru), Kelvin Hopkins (Labour) and Alistair Carmichael (Liberal Democrats).

Unfortunately, it was not taken forward to a second reading in the House of Commons.