The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee launches inquiry

Dispute Resolution - 3 minutes read

The future world and nature of work is predicted to change rapidly in the next few years. With thanks to technology, and the status and rights of agency workers, the self-employed, flexible workers and those working in the now so-called ‘gig economy’, the Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (‘BEIS’) Committee has launched an inquiry into the future world of work with the above as it’s focus point.

There have been a wealth of stories reported in the media which have prompted this next inquiry:

  • Working practices at Sports Direct.
  • The BEIS Committee’s recent inquiry into the Digital Economy and its effect on the employment status of workers in the sharer’s economy.
  • The working conditions and practices for agency staff working at Asos.
  • The low pay scandal at the delivery firm Hermes for its ‘self employed’ workers.
  • The latest revelation from the Employment Tribunal ruling in favour of ‘self-employed’ drivers working for Uber who sought employment rights.

Changing nature of work

Iain Wright, Chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee said: 

In our Sports Direct inquiry we exposed shocking examples of poor working practices, of agency workers paid less than the minimum wage and exploited through dubious voluntary schemes, such as pre-paid debit cards and deductions from pay for insurance services. In recent months we’ve seen growing evidence of agency workers and those working in the ‘gig economy’ being exposed to poor working conditions. This growing trend raises questions over employment status and lack of worker rights.” 

The nature of work is undoubtedly changing. It will change further with growing use of technology and a spreading of automation across the economy. This might provide flexibility and choice for some people, but unleash insecurity and squeezed working conditions for others.

 “With these economic and technological changes shaking up the world of work, it’s vitally important that workers are protected. In this inquiry we want to hear from all interested parties so that we can help the Government foster a vibrant, dynamic, innovative economy with laws that deliver the benefits of flexibility but which prevent exploitation“.

Terms of reference

The terms of reference for the inquiry are: 

1. Is the term ‘worker’ defined sufficiently clearly in law at present? If not, how should it be defined? 

What should be the status and rights of agency workers, casual workers, and the self-employed (including those working in the ‘gig economy’), for the purposes of tax, benefits and employment law? 

 2. For those casual and agency workers working in the ‘gig economy’, is the balance of benefits between worker and employer appropriate?  

3. What specific provision should there be for the protection and support of agency workers and those who are not employees? Who should be responsible for such provision – the Government, the beneficiary of the work, a mutual, the individual themselves?  

4. What differences should there be between levels of Government support for the self-employed and for employees, for example over statutory sick pay, holiday pay, employee pensions, maternity pay?  How should those rights be changed, to ensure fair protection for workers at work? What help should be offered in preparing those people who become self-employed (with, for example, financial, educational and legal advice), and who should be offering such help?  

5. Is there evidence that businesses are treating agency workers unfairly, compared with employees?  

6. Should there be steps taken to constrain the use by businesses of agency workers?  

7. What are the issues surrounding terms and conditions of employees, including the use of zero-hour contracts, definitions of flexible contracts, the role of the Low Pay Commission, and minimum wage enforcement? 

8. What is the role of trade unions in representing the self-employed and those not working in traditional employee roles?  

The deadline for written submissions to the Committee is Monday 19 December 2016 with evidence sessions in 2017.