The Status of Workers Bill, which legislates to replace the UK’s over-complicated employment status system with a universal status to cover every person in employment, won cross-party support in the House of Lords this morning.
Currently, people in employment can be legally defined as ’employees’, ‘limb (b) workers’ or ‘self-employed’. While employees enjoy the full suite of workers’ protections, limb (b) workers – many of whom are on zero-hour contracts or working in the gig economy – are eligible for only the most basic of rights. Self-employed individuals have no workers’ rights.
It is estimated that 3.7 million people are in insecure work in the UK, defined as having no guarantee of hours or pay. Most of these workers are ‘limb (b) workers’ or are in bogus self-employment.
The Status of Workers Bill replaces this system with one employment status covering everybody in employment who is not genuinely self-employed (on their own account and with their own customers or clients). This means that everybody with a job would have the same rights – including to parental pay and leave, redundancy protections, and to claim unfair dismissal.
It also legislates to protect people from bogus self-employment by placing the onus on employers to prove their contractors are self-employed, rather than workers being forced to litigate to prove they are not self-employed.
At the Bill’s Second Reading this morning, the Bill received almost unanimous support from Crossbench, Conservative, Green and Labour Party peers.
Lord John Hendy QC, who is also Chair of the Institute of Employment Rights, said:
“Times of economic hardship and recession are known to accelerate the growth of precarious work and the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic is no exception – we have already seen several major retailers fall into the hands of employers known for using insecure contracts.
“Without urgent action, we can expect to see even more workers in the extraordinary position of never knowing when they will be working or how much they will earn, still less how much they will be paid (or when) if they do work.
“For years, this state of affairs has been justified in the name of ‘flexibility’ but there will be nothing to prevent employers from negotiating flexible conditions with their workers under the terms of this Bill.
“Instead, the proposals laid out in this Bill will provide for true flexibility, for both workers and employers. The reality is that a casual worker is unlikely to turn down a shift if they risk never being offered another, but when a worker has rights, they can make flexibility work for them too.”
Notes to editor
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About the Institute of Employment Rights
The Institute of Employment Rights is a think tank for the trade union movement and a registered charity.
The IER exists to inform the debate around trade union rights and labour law by providing information, critical analysis, and policy ideas through our network of academics, researchers and lawyers.
We were established in February 1989 as an independent organisation to act as a focal point for the spread of new ideas in the field of labour law.