Britain’s thriving jobs market is the “envy” of Europe and Theresa May must ensure any enhancement of workers’ rights protects flexible employment, according to the head of the prime minister’s review into modern work.
Matthew Taylor, a former adviser to Tony Blair, said it was important that MPs did not become “complacent” about the job-rich recovery.
He said the UK’s “flourishing” flexible labour market was one of the country’s biggest strengths.
“Although this country has many weaknesses economically including productivity… when it comes to our capacity to create work, we’re pretty good,” he told a conference organised by the Trades Union Congress (TUC).
We have to recognise that most people who work atypically and flexibly want to work in that wayMatthew Taylor
“Many countries around Europe envy the position we’re in.”
Mr Taylor said his review, which is due to be published in a “couple of weeks”, would urge ministers to “preserve” and “enhance” ways of working where there is “two-way flexibility”.
He cited research conducted as part of the review that showed between two-thirds and three-quarters of people in atypical forms of work were happy.
“We have to recognise that most people who work atypically and flexibly want to work in that way, and indeed, of the third who say that’s not the way they want to work, for a lot of them it’s not because of the work they’re doing,” he said.
“We don’t want to do anything that would lead to people saying: ‘This is supposed to be protecting me, but I don’t want to be protected if I can’t work in the way that I want to work’.”
The chief executive of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) said policymakers should not lose sight of the fact that “the most important anti-poverty strategy we have is ensuring people can get jobs”.
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Employment is at a record high. Source: ONS
Official figures show more people are in work than ever before, while the working age employment rate is also at a record high.
Unemployment, at 4.6pc, is also at its lowest since 1975. The Queen’s speech last week stated that ministers would “seek to enhance rights and protections in the modern workplace”.
Mr Taylor said clear, legal distinctions between employees, the self-employed and so-called “workers” were needed, as well as steps in the “medium term” to make the tax system fairer..
Unemployment is at its joint-lowest level in more than 40 years. Source: ONS
He said the review would urge policymakers to stamp out of “unhealthy master/servant” relationships where some workers in the so-called “gig economy” feel they have to available for work, but are not guaranteed it.
Frances O’Grady, the TUC’s general secretary, said there had been a huge increase in zero-hours contracts to more than 900,000 at the end of last year as she criticised the “like it or lump it attitude” adopted by some employers. The TUC is calling for a ban on mandatory zero-hours contracts.
Mr Taylor said eliminating “one-way flexibility” was a priority, though he signalled that the review would not call for such a ban.
He said: “Two way flexibility is great… and we shouldn’t do anything in our review to reduce it. Of course you can just ban certain types of flexibility, and that will stop the exploitation, but if at the same time, you’re actually stopping two-thirds of people or three-quarters of people from working in ways that they want to, then that’s not a good way to conduct public policymaking.”