Fair, decent and high quality. The Taylor Report is a welcome roadmap for an evolving labour market . . . and some of us are already proving that it works

Published on: Thu, 14 Feb 2019
By: Lorna, CEO, redwigwam

I must admit that the release of the Taylor Report into the UK economy left me with mixed emotions. Knowing that much of the spotlight would fall on the so-called “gig economy” I almost dreaded the media coverage that would ensue. And sure enough, I soon found myself shouting at the radio on the drive into work as phone-in-show callers reacted negatively to the report.

As was expected, the terms gig economy, temporary-work market, and platform-based companies were all being used as a byword for National Insurance evasion and mistreatment of workers. While it was frustrating to hear how the actions of a few bad apples has dragged the temporary work market’s name through the mud, I can hardly say it is surprising. For reputable organisations working in this space – and I count my own company, redwigwam, as one of them – the responsibility now is to showcase the good work we are ALREADY doing in this space.

To my mind, we have already proved that the measures outlined in the Taylor Report are both feasible and contribute towards a “fair and decent” economy.

Waving our moral compass again

In my last article, The gig economy isn’t a monster. It’s a complex beast, I talked a lot about how we hold firm to our moral compass at redwigwam. I touched on many of the benefits we offer to both workers and hirers. And having seen the contents of the Taylor Report, I’m proud the trail we are blazing in the temporary work market aligns so closely with the report’s recommendations.

The Taylor Report takes a common-sense approach to modern employment practice. As has been well documented, there are 7 key points made in the report, which can be found here. Having read the report, I consider each one to be considered and fair, shining an important light on areas where some employers – or rather, gig companies – have been falling short.

I think it’s particularly important to pull out Step 2 in the report, as I feel that this has been somewhat overlooked. It says:

“Platform-based working offers welcome opportunities for genuine two-way flexibility and can provide opportunities for those who may not be able to work in more conventional ways.”

Contrary to some of the views I’ve head expressed in the last 24 hours, this suggests what the team at redwigwam have long been promoting: that new and efficient working models should be welcomed as long as they support employer and employee rights and do not compromise on quality.

It’s crucial that we do not lay the blame for poor working conditions and unfair pay at the door of technology; instead, it is the business models behind them that must be ethical and robust.

Let us be clear: platform-based tools are there to facilitate positive user experiences, be it for hirers, workers, or end consumers. The argument that making the temporary work market quicker, more responsive, and liberated from the restrictions of normal office hours does not create a race to the bottom. People who choose to devalue services are responsible for this.

Our platform-based business functions as a tool for hirers and workers to match in the easiest and most reliable way possible. It may not be the perfect system (we’re refining things all the time) but while we don’t need to be involved personally in every transaction, we make one thing very clear. As the gatekeepers to this matching service, we have a responsibility to enforce not only legal boundaries but moral ones, too.

A case in point: hirers are not able to set hourly rates below the living wage on our site. Should they try to do this, a notification will be sent to them outlining what the national living wage is.

We are also passionate about providing a point of contact for both hirers and workers. Our platform is not a firewall that keeps the public at bay (an accusation often thrown at some of the leading tech giants); we are a “people company” and we work closely with both workers and hirers on a daily basis through tools such as Live Chat.

Admittedly, our own model differs from many other platforms in that we function as an employer to all the workers on our books. By doing this we ensure that all National Insurance contributions are made, that flexibility is a two-way street between both hirer and worker, and that holiday pay is also covered.

Yet even those tech businesses that claim to be facilitators rather than employers have the ability – and the responsibility – to run things fairly. It seems to me that the “dependent contractors” label outlined by Matthew Taylor is a good one. It does not condemn the principle of flexible work but simply outlines that it should not come at a heavy price.

“Good Work” means “Productive Work”

One thing that always strikes me when I hear a debate surrounding the gig economy, temporary labour, and zero-hour contracts is that acting ethically and with a “baseline of protection” for workers must come at the expense of productivity. The view is often that businesses must choose between being a responsible employer and a wealthy employer.

This simply isn’t true.

When we talk about employment and the economy, productivity is the yardstick by which we measure ourselves. I’d like to point out that there is no greater driver of productivity than a motivated and incentivised workforce.

A happy, driven workforce is always going to deliver a much better service than one being paid below minimum wage, without NI contributions, and with no hope of taking a holiday. Treating staff mean in business certainly does not keep them keen. In fact, it leads to corner-cutting, lower productivity, and a poor end product.

As the Taylor report states, the nature of employment is evolving. Unless quality of employment keeps pace with these developments, the UK may quickly lose its place in the top 5 most efficient labour markets in the world.

When redwigwam launched, we laid a marker down that we want dedicated, punctual, hard-working temporary workers to come on our books. And in return we’d protect them by safeguarding their contributions, offering holiday pay, and taking the administrative hassle of self-employment away.

Of course, we haven’t been able to do this alone. Our clear stance on this means that we only work with hirers who share our ethos and also believe that a healthy, happy workforce is a more productive one. Those hirers we speak to day in and day out tell us that they are using temporary staff to give them flexibility, to resource their business during changing seasonal demands, and, yes, to avoid unsustainable overheads. But they also tell us that a workforce that is treated right is motivated to do well.

By no means do I mean to say that the self-employed model does not work. Of the 5 million people who choose to operate in the temporary work market, there are many who embrace their self-employed status. The distinction here is that those who want to be self-employed are choosing roles in which they can set their own hourly rate and work for a range of organisations as they choose.

As the Taylor Report rightly points out there are far too many cases of self-employed status being used as a smokescreen for individuals working for one single company, earning below the minimum wage, and missing out on National Insurance contributions.

Where there is no control over salary, there is injustice in self-employment. And as Matthew Taylor rightly asserts, these people are truly “dependent contractors”.

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