05 January 2018
Happy New Year to all our readers! This special news brief provides a round-up of all the news and developments that have occurred since our last pre-Christmas mailing.
For an update on employment law developments throughout 2017, don’t miss out on our Employment Law Update conference on Thursday 18 January in Liverpool, which is now only £50 to attend. Keep an eye out, too, for our Labour Law Highlights 2017 publication which will be hot off the press later this month.
2017 was characterised by great uncertainty over how Brexit will affect workers’ rights, with the government refusing to amend the EU (Withdrawal) Bill to prevent any erosion of the protections to which workers currently have access. Despite verbal assurances that workers’ rights emanating from the EU would be preserved, rumblings of Tory plots to weaken the law continued over the Christmas break.
Cabinet ministers pushed for an end to the Working Time Directive, prompting an article by Shadow BEIS Minister Rebecca Long-Bailey, who accused the government of taking the UK back to the Victorian era.
In response, leaders from the British Medical Association, royal colleges and trade unions warned that any weakening of this protection could put patients’ lives at risk.
Labour vowed to force a vote on keeping the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights following the UK’s exit from the EU, after the government said it would be dropped. Shadow Brexit Minister Keir Starmer explained to the Guardian that there is currently no “cast-iron guarantee” that human rights will be protected.
Elsewhere, the government’s approach to human rights was put into question by allegations from a group of lawyers that Theresa May and her Party have vetoed the selection of qualified board members to the Equality and Human Rights Commission on the grounds of political belief. Some of those dismissed or overlooked for positions on the board include Sarah Veale, former head of equality and employment rights at the Trades Union Congress, and what the Guardian understood to be “several highly experienced lawyers” that had the support of the commission’s Chair.
Possibly the biggest hit to the government’s Brexit project came in the form of Lord Adonis’ resignation from the Prime Minister’s senior team. In his letter to the Theresa May, he described the EU (Withdrawal) Bill as “the worst legislation of my lifetime”.
International trade deals
Another source of anxiety for many in the labour movement is how the UK will go on to strike up new trade deals following our break from the EU. Indeed, it was announced over the Christmas break that officials at the Department of International Trade had held meetings regarding the possibility of joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TUC warned that any move in this direction could severely weaken workers’ rights.
Some bright news for gig economy workers just before Christmas, as the European Court of Justice ruled that Uber is a taxi company and not simply a digital platform. This decision punches another hole in the firm’s argument that it is simply a tool used by ‘self employed’ drivers, and may therefore support further challenges for workers’ rights in the gig economy.
However, there was also further evidence of the pressures gig workers are under, with new research revealing that one third juggle at least two jobs at the same time.
New data has demonstrated how the UK’s employment status system – which provides fewer rights to “workers” than “employees” – can be used to drive down conditions, with research showing agency workers are losing up to £1,000 a year compared with their permanent colleagues.
Earlier this week, the latest inequality statistics were released, showing that FTSE 100 bosses have already taken more in 2018 than the average worker will by the end of the year.
The TUC warned that this situation is likely to worsen, predicting that real wages will fall by 0.7% over the next 12 months, lumping UK workers with the worst real wage growth of all advanced economies. The Resolution Foundation appeared to agree, pitching its forecast at zero real wage growth in 2018.
Elsewhere, it was reported that two-thirds of workers were denied pay rises and promotions in 2017.
The ordinary worker is, then, facing further squeezes on their income, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Analysis by the TUC revealed that minimum wage would be £26,000 a year if pay rises for the average worker had kept up with the rate of increase of CEO wages.
Gender Pay Gap Reporting
This will be the first year that companies are expected to publish their gender pay gap data, but – as predicted by many across the labour movement – it looks like the total lack of sanctions on those who fail to comply with the law has made the legislation all too easy to avoid.
Only 4% of companies have actually published their report so far, and they only have until April to get it done, leading to predictions that many will fail to comply.
Perhaps bosses hope to hide a poor record, as new data has revealed that there are 100,000 more women than men earning below the living wage in Scotland, a picture that is likely to be repeated across the UK.
Lastly, there has been further troubling news regarding modern slavery and its continued prevalence in the UK.
The government’s Modern Slavery Act was intended to combat this illegal and damaging practice, but it has been heavily criticised as a failure, after it was reported that the government has not provided the resources needed to properly enforce the law.
Sadly, the lack of coordinated action on the issue has led to modern slavery becoming commonplace in certain industries, as demonstrated by an Independent investigation into the matter.