What do Kosovo, Estonia and Mexico all have in common? It’s not a joke, sadly: they’re all rated as giving better protection to employees than the UK.
For all the talk of tax cuts in last week’s Budget there was nothing at all for those people who don’t know from week to week how much they will be earning, let alone how much they will be paying in tax. The rise of the gig economy has been one of the hallmarks of the era of austerity. The Government’s response was to commission a review – which identified problems such as low wages, low productivity, and exploitation. But having now identified the problem the Government don’t seem to have any desire to do anything of substance about it.
Launching four consultations and merely ‘considering’ proposals is all that the Tories have to show, nearly 500 days after the Taylor review was published. Still there’s no plan to alter the fundamentals of the exploitative business models that are proliferating in the UK.
At the heart of the Government’s response to the gig economy is a fatal misunderstanding: they think there has to be a trade-off between flexibility for employers and security for employees – and they think that bosses’ interests should always win.
All workers have the right to both flexibility and security – but at the moment many have neither. Where is the security for a Deliveroo driver if they fall ill and can’t work for a month? The Prime Minister spoke once of tackling burning injustices, but she’s shown no sign of wanting to do anything about this. Instead she’s forcing workers to bear their employer’s financial risk – not a risk that most would voluntarily choose to take.
The Government don’t want to “interfere” – that is, they aren’t willing to ensure that people in this country have enough money to eat and pay their rent. It has therefore fallen on the trade unions to challenge the biggest and dodgiest employers in the courts, and they deserve our gratitude for that. But we shouldn’t have to depend on trade unions’ legal victories in order to drive incremental changes to the law on self employment. It should the Government leading the way.
Viciously exploitative contracts have grown unchecked, and allowing that to happen was an appalling abdication of responsibility by this Government. But the next Labour Government will meet that challenge. We will protect employees, demand stability and fairness for all, and ensure that on day one of a job, every worker gets holiday, sick pay and protection from unfair dismissal. That’s the only way to make sure that working conditions are not driven down. We will also ban zero hours contracts – so that every worker gets a guaranteed number of hours each week. We will repeal the deeply unjust Trade Union Act and roll out sectoral collective bargaining – because the most effective way to maintain good rights at work is collectively through a union.
Our polices will see an end to bad bosses gaming the system, a system where those with the deep pockets and new technology continually move the goalposts in a deliberate, calculated and cynical way, trying to deny people their basic workplace rights.
Putting this right is a cornerstone of creating a fairer and more equal society. How can people plan for their future if the labour market is so parasitic that it takes everything for many workers just to keep their head above water and they are always just one mishap away from disaster? Rights aren’t a dirty word, and they are about even more than individual dignity and respect in the workplace. Rights give people a stake in society. They make sure that if we do a good job, then we will be rewarded.
Labour has a clear plan for building an economy and a country where everyone has a stake in our prosperity. It’s employees who create the wealth that pays for their own work – so that work should be fair and secure. The Tories are wrong – this isn’t a wild demand; it’s common sense. And Labour’s going to make it a reality.
Justin Madders is the Labour MP for Ellesmere Port & Neston, and shadow labour minister