Theresa May steals Labour’s clothes with review of workers’ rights

The Prime Minister wants to ensure that the self-employed and workers on zero-hours contracts are not ‘left behind’

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Indy Politics

Theresa May is to step up her pledge to tame the excesses of capitalism by exploring new protections for the self-employed and workers on zero-hours contracts.

The Prime Minister will announce on Saturday a top level review into whether business practises and employment regulations are “keeping pace with the changing world of work”.

And – to underline her act of political cross-dressing – she will appoint a former head of Tony Blair’s policy unit, Matthew Taylor, to carry out the inquiry.

The move, on the eve of the start of the Conservative party conference on Sunday, underlines Ms May’s determination not to allow her premiership to be defined entirely by Brexit.

It builds on the themes set out in her only major policy statement, in July, in which she pledged a crackdown on irresponsible behaviour by big business, an industrial policy and workers on boards.

The review will explore the impact of “non-standard employment” on payment of the minimum wage, maternity and paternity rights, pensions’ auto-enrolment, sick pay, and holiday pay.

The Prime Minister hailed the review as a further strand of building a “new centre ground in British politics” and creating “a country that works for everyone”.

She said: “Our regulations work well for the majority, but we will ensure that no-one is left behind.

“Improving the pay, security and rights of ordinary working people is a key part of building a country and an economy that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.

“Flexibility and innovation are a vital part of what makes our economy strong, but it is essential that these virtues are combined with the right support and protections for workers.”

Ms May added: “We need to be certain that employment regulation and practises are keeping pace with the changing world of work.”

Downing Street said around six million people – around one in five workers – are not covered by the standard package of workplace rights, a number that continues to grow. 

They are made up of 4.8 million people in self-employment, 1.7 million in temporary work and 900,000 on zero-hour contracts.

It insisted current employment rules work for the majority, with the self-employed generally more happy than employees and most workers on zero-hour contracts not wanting to work more hours.

It also argued the flexibility of the UK labour market is a key strength of the economy, playing an important part in the success of record numbers of people in work.

However, No 10 acknowledged: “The growth of non-standard employment practises can also create problems. Rapidly changing business models and working practises continually stretch the limits of our employment rules.”

Mr Taylor will also examine the lessons to be learned from trade union campaigns in America, including the lobbying of Uber on behalf of its self-employed drivers.

The workplace opportunities for the elderly, people with disabilities, or those with care responsibilities, will form a third strand of the review.

Mr Taylor, who is now chief executive of Royal Society of the Arts, described his appointment – as one of Ms May’s first acts as prime minister – as “very encouraging”.

He added: “That the Prime Minister has chosen to prioritise the interests of the growing army of people working in new ways sends an important message.

“As well as getting to grips with the key trends and issues, I intend for the review team to get out and about across Britain, hearing at first hand how people’s experience of work affects their daily lives.”