The government’s plans stop short of tightening controls on the zero-hour employment practices used by Uber and Deliveroo
Uber said it welcomed the “clarity” promised by a package of government labour reforms that took effect on Monday, while labour unions said the move was a missed opportunity to effectively adapt the UK to an economy based on zero-hours contracts.
The reforms, laid out on Monday in a report called the Good Work Plan, are the government’s response to a review into work in the UK, with particular attention paid to the so-called gig economy, in which firms such as ride-sharing firm Uber and delivery firm Deliveroo make use of self-employed workers who have few rights.
The government said it was implementing 51 out of the report’s 53 suggested reforms, but would stop short of eliminating zero-hours contracts.
That is in line with the review’s finding that to do so would “negatively impact” more people than it would helped.
The spread of zero-hours contracts have been a bone of contention in the UK, with unions arguing they doom workers to a precarious existence.
The government’s reforms include improving the clarity of employment status tests, increasing fines for employers who deliberately mistreat staff and giving workers details of their rights from their first day on the job.
They also plan to stop the use of what business secretary Greg Clark called “unfair” contracts that allow businesses to employ agency staff more cheaply than permanent workers.
“We welcome more clarity from the government and look forward to working closely with them to make sure drivers can keep all the benefits that come from being your own boss,” Uber said in a statement.
Deliveroo said it would work with the government to advance the interests of its delivery riders.
Unite, the UK’s largest trade union, said the reforms were a “weak” response to the challenge of zero-hours contracts.
“People on zero hour contracts and workers in the insecure economy need much more than a weak right to request a contract and more predictable hours,” Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said.
“Exploited workers in this country are sick of press releases, rhetoric and self-congratulatory government announcements,” said Jason Moyer-Lee, general secretary of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain.
Balance of power
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady welcomed the closure of the agency worker loophole, but said the reforms would not “shift the balance of power in the gig economy”.
“Unless unions get the right to organise and bargain for workers in places like Uber and Amazon, too many working people will continue to be treated like disposable labour,” she said.
“These proposals do nothing to tackle the growing number of people on precarious zero-hours contracts,” said shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey.
The reforms are a key part of the government’s long-term industrial strategy, which includes investment into developing areas such as artificial intelligence and autonomous vehicles.
“Today’s largest upgrade in workers’ rights in over a generation is a key part of building a labour market that continues to reward people for hard work, that celebrates good employers and is boosting productivity and earning potential across the UK,” said Clark.