Tim Goodwin: Does the government’s response to the Taylor Review go far enough to protect workers?

taylor review

The government has finally set out its response to the Taylor Review, which looked at how changes in the workplace, and in particular, the rise of the gig economy, affect our employment rights. Unfortunately, the response is not particularly inspiring.

For starters, there is not an awful lot in it. Rather than setting out a bold set of proposals aimed at tackling false self-employment and some of the worst abuses in the gig economy, the government’s response has been to set up four consultations which essentially ask what should be done. To some extent, this work has already been covered by the Taylor Review.

The most significant issue at stake is the question of status: whether someone is a genuinely self-employed contractor, a worker with some limited rights, or an employee with more workplace protection. This is the issue that has caused so much trouble in recent months, with a string of cases involving household names like Deliveroo and Pimlico Plumbers battling it out to determine what employment status really means. The courts have repeatedly held that status is a question that turns on the facts in each case. So while plenty of indicative features have been highlighted by the courts over the years, there is no hard-and-fast way for individuals and businesses alike to know where they stand.

As the Taylor Review commenced, many commentators, practitioners, unions and businesses were hoping the uncertainty around status would be tackled head on. However, the government appears to be proposing to do no more than simply transpose into statute the current uncertain test devised by the courts. Unless the government proposes to make fundamental changes to that test when it does so, and there is no suggestion that it does, it is hard to see how such an exercise will achieve much. Indeed, it may only muddy the waters further.

It is likely to be a long time before we see what comes of the government’s consultations, the last of which does not close until June 2018. Once they are complete, perhaps we will have something more concrete to consider.

Tim Goodwin is associate at law firm Winckworth Sherwood