The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee has launched an inquiry into the ‘future world of work’ and in particular, the ‘gig economy’ – agency workers, zero-hours work, the use of ‘self-employment’, worker status, low pay and poor working conditions. They refer to the recent Sports Direct scandal and also other organisations with similar poor working conditions.
This is good news. Hopefully, whatever its outcome, turning the lamp onto these types of employers can bring some heat on these organisations with more public attention drawn to the growth of the ‘precariat’ – individuals who work in poor conditions with weak terms and conditions, be it low pay, the absence of paid holiday, sick pay and the like.
My view is that the rise of the ‘precariat’ is nothing new – this country has a history of shoddy employers treating working people poorly and of governments legislating to either counter this, with increased protections (the introduction of redundancy pay in the 1960s, unfair dismissal in the 1970s and the recent(ish) minimum wage in the 1990s) or to aid it, by reducing employment rights (the scrapping of wages councils, the introduction of ET fees of up to £1,200, limits on compensation – all within the last 3-4 years). Since 2010, the move has been to reduce employment protection and to restrict trade unions. My view is that this has encouraged shoddy employers and weakened the position of employees.
Evidence suggests that as a result of the reduction in protections, the equal pay gap is now growing and certain sectors of the workforce, such as disabled people and pregnant women or women on maternity leave, are suffering more, not less, discrimination. I also believe that it has encouraged the growth of the ‘gig economy’ – individuals working in sham ‘self-employment’ situations or in weak zero-hours roles with little control or say about the number of hours they work. This causes illness, harms the economy and damages lives, not least children of adults who work for low pay, on horrendous hours and with uncertain futures.
I’m pleased that the Committee have this on the agenda. Let’s hope for all concerned, not least our children and grand-children, that whatever recommendations are made, they are followed by those in power and a more secure workforce results with more (not less) permanent, well-paid jobs. After all, apart from shoddy employers and obscenely profitable multinationals, how do we as a nation benefit from the rise of the precariat?
The Committee is seeking comments – please do so at: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/business-energy-industrial-strategy/news-parliament-2015/the-future-world-of-work-and-rights-of-workers-launch-16-17