Kevin Barrow: Two years since the Taylor review – what is next for zero-hour workers?

Kevin Barrow

It has now been two years since the government commissioned The Independent Review of Employment Practices in the Modern Economy, or the Taylor Review as it is more commonly known.

Over the past 24 months, this much anticipated review into modern working practices has certainly been high on the agenda for the UK government. Earlier this year, for example, it was announced that most of the recommendations made in the report would be taken forward and consulted on. Meanwhile, the subject of zero-hour contracts has been a key discussion at this year’s party conferences.

So, what happens now?

Well, obviously, a lot depends on whether there is a snap election and change of government. Let us assume, for these purposes, that does not happen.

There is plenty of evidence, including in the Taylor report, that many zero-hour and other gig economy workers like the flexibility and tax efficiencies these arrangements offer. However, as non-standard employment models continue to grow and politicians focus more on this area, organisations will likely see some change in the way in which such workers are treated in the next few years.

We predict that there will be increased measures to protect workers, especially those for whom these arrangements are the main source of income. Zero-hours and agency workers seem likely to be given the right to request more stable contracts if they regularly work, including easier access to sick pay and holiday pay and a list of day one rights.

The big challenge is whether there will be legislation to clarify who is and who is not an employee, or the intermediate category of ‘worker’, as opposed to being genuinely self-employed, and therefore who is entitled to employee and worker rights under existing law. That may well take a long time to develop; this is a notoriously complex issue which many other countries are struggling with. If it were easy to resolve uncertainty about employment status with new legislative wording, the UK and other countries would have implemented this sort of change many years ago. So, the courts and tribunals are likely to face many more status claims by gig workers before this is resolved, if it ever is.

Employers should not, however, put the government’s ‘Good Work’ agenda in the ‘wait to see what happens’ box. The likely developments should form part of their workforce planning now, as a lot can happen in just a couple of years, especially given how much attention this area is now being given by politicians.

Kevin Barrow is contingent workforce partner at international legal practice Osborne Clarke