Time to change the legal assumption: companies should be under more pressure to actively prove their model is one of self-employmentby Frank Field / November 23, 2017 / Leave a comment
Speaking on the steps of Downing Street for the first time as Prime Minister, Theresa May promised to address the “burning injustice” endured by too many in Britain. She pledged her government would stand up for the many against the interests of the privileged few. There can be few areas in this country where there is a more urgent need to tackle injustice and inequality than the world of work.
One of the central assumptions of the fine legal tradition in this country is that the parties to a contract, or a dispute, should be put on as equal a footing as possible. Much of our law is about exactly that: defending the rights of the ordinary individual, the “little guy,” against the narrow interests of the “privileged few.”
The current situation however is reversed. The new employment class in the gig economy means that individuals are left to take on the whole industry. An unacceptable burden is placed on individual workers to address poor practice through an expensive and risky court case, while the companies themselves operate with relative impunity.
The Director of Labour Market Enforcement David Metcalf recently told the Work and Pensions committee, of which I am chair, that with current resources, employers can expect an inspection of their labour practices once every 500 years. On this timescale the last case would have happened at the Reformation! This is hardly a great deterrent, especially when firms will face only paltry fines if they are found to be breaking the law. Restrictions on class actions and the absence of higher penalties for widespread or repeated abuses by the same employer mean companies can just sit back and wait to see whether individuals are willing to take all the risks of pursuing their rights.
“We should not be in a position where a willingness to exploit your workforce—and the UK taxpayer—is a competitive advantage”
This week, we published with the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee a report with one central proposition. There should be a legal assumption of “worker by default, until proven otherwise,” for companies with substantial dependent workforces currently labelled as self-employed. This would shift the burden and risk back where it should be. Companies would be required to provide basic safety net standards of rights and benefits…