Boris Johnson’s ‘indifference’ to workers’ rights attacked by watchdog as report gathers dust

Outgoing champion Matthew Taylor criticises failure to act – amid fears for protections after Brexit

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Monday 08 February 2021 09:50
<p>Matthew Taylor has warned of a growing risk of exploitation as unemployment rises because of Covid-19</p>

Matthew Taylor has warned of a growing risk of exploitation as unemployment rises because of Covid-19

A report to tackle the abuse of low-paid workers is gathering dust because of Boris Johnson’s lack of interest, says the man who carried it out.

Matthew Taylor, who has stood down as director of Labour Market Enforcement, attacked the failure to act – amid controversy over whether workers' rights will be watered down after Brexit.

Nearly a year ago, Mr Taylor completed an investigation into whether protections are being flouted in sectors including hand car washes, agriculture, social care and construction.

He also warned of a growing risk of exploitation as unemployment rises because of the Covid-19 pandemic and changes to the immigration system after Brexit.

Now Mr Taylor has revealed he left the post last week, when his contract was not renewed – despite offering to work for free because he feared it being left vacant.

“Ministers and officials appear to be indifferent or complacent about a body that was set up to ensure effective accountability and insight into the scale and nature of non-compliance,” he told The Times.

Mr Taylor attributed the failure to act to “inertia and incompetence” – while acknowledging that “some people will think this is ideological”.

He said: “But the problem is, where you have inertia and incompetence, it does suggest that nobody is prioritising an issue.

“One gets the sense that the government is caught on the horns of a dilemma. On the one hand, it has an inherited commitment to good work and a commitment to levelling up. And, on the other hand, it has deregulatory instincts.

“It feels as though the government is flip-flopping between these two perspectives and it needs to decide what it wants to do in relation to work, and particularly vulnerable workers.”

The criticism comes after the government launched another review into how to exploit post-Brexit freedoms to change rules for workers – only to back down after criticism.

Mr Taylor, the chief executive of the Royal Society for Arts (RSA), was appointed director of Labour Market Enforcement in 2019 by Greg Clark, the-then business secretary.

He previously investigated how to beef-up protections for workers without sick pay and holiday pay in the so-called “gig economy” for Theresa May, which produced some changes.

An Employment Bill was announced in the Queen's Speech in December 2019, to take forward other aspects of those proposals – but has yet to appear after more than one year.

The prime minister has been criticised for making the “levelling up” of the country his ambition, without explaining how to achieve it, or even defining what success would look like.

Mr Taylor added: “Levelling up, which is an exciting idea, has to include ensuring that workers, particularly workers at the bottom end of the labour market, have the rights and entitlements that they deserve.”

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