Following the Taylor Review last week, a report on the future of work in the UK, Matt Southall, Acorn’s MD, discusses the Gig Economy and how crucial it is for employers to evolve with such changes.
It will come as no surprise that I watch trends and developments within the employment sector extremely closely. As MD of one of the UK’s leading recruitment companies, I have to be aware of any changes to our industry in order to ensure that we continue to be able to support employers and jobseekers as best as possible.
Last week, the world of work was once again making the headlines with the publication of the Taylor Review, a report on the future of work in the UK. The report covered a variety of topics, but the one that seems to have generated the most column inches were the recommendations made for the gig economy.
I last spoke about the gig economy back in September 2016 and since then it has continued to grow in prominence, and size, with recent estimates suggesting that as many as 1.1 million people in the UK are now gig workers. However, while awareness of the type of work has certainly increased, the grey areas around employment conditions and worker rights, remain.
Opinion is divided regarding the pros and cons of the gig economy. Some believe that workers having total freedom in their working lives gives them a level of flexibility they have never known in the past. Others have argued that this type of contract could signal a return to the terrible working conditions reminiscent of the pre-industrial era, when people were virtually enslaved to their employer.
Certainly, the Taylor Review didn’t suggest that the practise was in any way Dickensian, or in need of elimination, rather it took the much more measured view that there is a need for greater flexibility and pay.
The Review also coined the phrase ‘dependent contractor’, meaning that these workers sit somewhere between an employee and someone who is genuinely self-employed.
The Taylor Review makes several recommendations, including the suggestion that anyone who takes on employment in the gig economy should have their rights laid out to them on day one, and in ‘plain English’. Arguably, this is something that should happen in all jobs and contracts, regardless of their nature – everyone should be clear about where they stand from the outset.
This report comes on the back of a tribunal ruling last year that Uber workers are entitled to earn minimum wage. The judges in the case said that drivers must be viewed as ‘workers’ and therefore are deserving of basic rights, such as the national minimum wages, paid holidays and limited working hours.
Unions have stepped in on behalf of gig workers and have been quick to flag the fact that workers are being exploited and it is worth noting that Uber is in the process of challenging this ruling.
Of course, as with all things employment, the Government has to be careful to walk the important line between ensuring that workers are sufficiently protected, while allowing businesses to grow. Certainly, any successful businessperson will be quick to say that at the heart of any successful, sustainable business, is likely to be a happy workforce and with MP Frank Field estimating that some delivery drivers are making less than £2.50 an hour, there clearly need to be changes.
Ultimately, the way we work is constantly evolving, and will continue to, probably quicker than ever. What is crucial is that employers have to evolve with these changes, workers have to be aware of their rights. The onus is on all of us.
Matt Southall is Group Managing Director of Wales’ leading multi-specialist recruiter, Acorn www.acornpeople.com