COMMONS

Future world of work and rights of workers inquiry launched

26 October 2016

The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee has launched an inquiry into the future world of work, focussing on the rapidly changing nature of work, and the status and rights of agency workers, the self-employed, and those working in the 'gig economy'. The inquiry also looks at issues such as low-pay and poor working conditions for people working in these non-traditional employee roles.

Scope of the inquiry

The inquiry follows the Committee's recent inquiry into working practices at Sports Direct and the Committee's inquiry on the Digital Economy, which looked at the employment status of workers in the sharing economy.

The inquiry also follows recent news stories about working practices and the use of agency staff at Asos, concerns about couriers at Hermes, and growing questions around the status of those working in the 'on-demand' economy, for businesses such as Uber and Deliveroo.

Latest statistics report that a record number of people – 4.79 million – are self-employed (July–August 2016). 1.66 million people are employed on a temporary basis.

Terms of reference

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?

Send a written submission

Written evidence should be submitted online via the future world of work and rights of workers inquiry page.

The Committee asks for written submissions by Monday 19 December 2016. Evidence sessions begin in the new year.

Chair's comments

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".

Background

1. Buzzfeed investigation into conditions at an Asos warehouse in Barnsley ('The real cost of Asos's fashion'), September 29 2016

2. Employment: data on employment in the UK, House of Commons Library

  • 31.81 million people were in employment. Types of Employment – 4.79 million people were self-employed, slightly higher than in the previous quarter. There was also an increase in the number of people working as employees, up 121,000 to 26.83 million.
  • 23.23 million people were working full-time in June–August 2016, up 40,000 from the previous quarter and 362,000 higher than a year earlier. There were 8.58 million people working part-time, up 66,000 from the previous quarter and 198,000 higher than a year earlier.
  • 1.66 million people were employed on a temporary basis, up 40,000 from the previous quarter but down slightly from the year before.

Further information

Image: iStockphoto

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