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  1. ITV Report

Theresa May endorses 'feeble' review into gig economy workers' rights

  • Video report by ITV News Business Editor Joel Hills

Theresa May has endorsed a Government-ordered review into the employment rights of workers in the gig economy that has been branded "feeble" by critics.

The review recommended a new category of worker called a "dependent contractor" and said there should be "genuine two-way flexibility", giving workers additional protections.

The report, headed by Matthew Taylor, a former adviser to Tony Blair, said low-paid workers should not be "stuck" at the living wage minimum, or face insecurity.

But unions and employment lawyers criticised the report, which has taken nine months to produce, for doing little to help the growing number of workers in delivery and taxi firms such as Deliveroo and Uber.

Prime Minister Theresa May defended the report at its launch in London.

Deliveroo Credit: ITV News

She said it will help the Government "to ensure that the interests of employees on traditional contracts, the self-employed and those people working in the 'gig' economy are all properly protected".

But she insisted Britain must avoid "overbearing regulation", retain flexibility in the labour market and remain "a home to innovation, new ideas and new business models".

Mrs May said the Taylor review will inform her efforts to ensure "the high standards of our best employers become the benchmark against which all employers are judged" and that "as the world of work changes, our practices and laws can properly reflect and accommodate those changes".

On the subject of zero-hours contracts Mrs May said it was important to ensure that they do not allow employers to "exploit" workers, but rejected Labour's call for them to be banned, warning that this would "harm more people than it would help".

The Taylor Report recommended the creation of a new category of worker in employment law called a "dependent contractor" to cover those who are not full-time employees but do not enjoy the autonomy traditionally seen as part of self-employment.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "From what we've seen, this review is not the game-changer needed to end insecurity and exploitation at work."

Ms O'Grady said she doubted the report would "shift the balance of power in the modern workplace".

Modern firms like Uber have challenged traditional employment models. Credit: PA

Thompsons Solicitors' chief executive Stephen Cavalier said the report's recommendations were "feeble and add another layer of unnecessary complexity".

"The creation of a new 'dependent contractor' status for gig economy workers would further complicate existing categories of how workers are defined in law," he said.

"What is needed is one category which affords all workers all employment rights from day one of their contracts starting. This new status is unclear and unnecessary."

Report author Mr Taylor said the UK's performance on the quantity of work was strong, adding that now was the time to create better jobs.

Report author Matthew Taylor set out seven 'principles for fair and decent work'.

"The review calls on the Government to adopt the ambition that all work should be fair and decent with scope for fulfilment and development.

"Despite the impact of the National Living Wage and tax credits, there will always be people who are in work but finding it hard to make ends meet.

"Our social contract with those people should include dignity at work and the realistic scope to progress in the labour market.

"Bad work - insecure, exploitative, controlling - is bad for health and wellbeing, something that generates cost for vulnerable individuals, but also for wider society.

"Improving the quality of work should be an important part of our productivity strategy."

Mr Taylor set out seven "principles for fair and decent work", including a goal of "good work for all", additional protections for workers suffering unfair, one-sided flexibility, stronger incentives for firms to treat workers fairly, and a more proactive approach to workplace health.

Unite leader Len McCluskey said the recommendations must be matched by effective enforcement of the law, adding: "Without fully resourced enforcement then all we have from Mr Taylor and the Government is a dog that is all bark and no bite."

He added: "The seven pillars of Taylor are very wobbly and tumble to rubble under first scrutiny."

Mrs May was also asked if she agreed with the report's finding that many gig economy firms should be possibly paying millions of pounds in National Insurance contributions, which they do not currently.

She replied: "We're going to look at all these recommendations that have come out of the report and we will look at them all very carefully and seriously and we will respond to the report collectively, in due course."

Addressing her lack of a parliamentary majority and the difficulty that causes in terms of implementing the report's recommendations, Mrs May said: "I would hope, as I said in my speech, that people across the political world will see the importance of addressing this as an issue.

"Because this isn't just a sort of here-and-now.

"It's actually about the future of our economy, it's about making sure that we have got the right frameworks in place, the right approach in place as well."