Wednesday, June 29

“Deafening silence”: UK government criticized delays in labor reforms | Economic recovery

The government has been accused of delaying its heels on promised reforms to zero-hour contracts and the gig economy as legislation to protect workers faces serious delays.

New legislation aimed at beefing up protections for Britain’s most vulnerable workers won’t be ready until the end of the year at the earliest, raising new questions about the government’s promise to protect workers’ rights after Brexit.

Whitehall’s recently deceased employment czar Matthew Taylor said there was a “deafening silence” from ministers on landmark labor reforms, in areas like zero-hour contracts and the gig economy, which were announced by Boris Johnson ago. more than a year.

The government promised to make Britain “the best place in the world to work.” Taylor claims that the government’s enthusiasm for the reforms had “waned” since then.

While the business department said the government remained fully committed to toughening the law to protect those in precarious jobs, the TUC, Labor and high-ranking Conservatives joined Taylor in demanding faster progress.

Sources close to the government said that their flagship employment bill – promised before the UK formally left the EU as a central mechanism to safeguard workers’ rights – it was unlikely to be launched until late 2021 or even early 2022. Stakeholders have been told that these are the Potential times when it could be brought to parliament, despite being announced more than a year ago, they said.

Changes to address unsafe work had been promised in Queen’s December 2019 speech, a day before the key Commons vote that approved Johnson’s Brexit plan, as how her government would “protect and enhance the workers rights when the UK leaves the EU, Britain the best place in the world to work ”.

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But in a speech on the lack of progress, Taylor, who was the government’s director of labor market enforcement until the end of last month, questioned the Conservative Party’s desire to safeguard labor standards.

“There is still no clarity on what the government intends to do. We have seen a gradual but unmistakable slowdown in the government’s reform agenda in relation to good work. There was initial enthusiasm, but it has waned, it has waned and it has waned, “he told The Guardian.

Taylor’s role as director of labor rights remains vacant after his term expired last month. He offered to stay in the post without pay until ministers hired a replacement, but was turned down.

A spokesperson for the business department said launching the bill was a matter of securing parliamentary time, adding that “protecting and enhancing workers’ rights is an absolute priority for this government.

“We remain firmly committed to maintaining high standards and implementing legislation that ensures that we have an employment framework fit for the purpose of the 21st century.”

However, parliamentarians, including secondary conservatives, have been concerned about the lack of progress. The Commons Equality and Women’s Committee said last week that the bill was vital to protecting female workers disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Caroline Nokes, conservative chair of the group, said: “We believe it is important that the bill is presented before the end of June.”

Taylor, former adviser to Tony Blair who led a government review of modern labor practices for Theresa May in 2017, said it was surprising that ministers appeared hesitant at a time when public concern over workplace abuses was on the rise due to the Covid recession.

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More than 2.6 million people are expected to be unemployed by the middle of this year, more than double pre-pandemic levels.

Sources said officials last summer sought a reform of the bill to reflect Covid’s impact on the job market, but there has been little progress since its launch.

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In a sign of their unprepared status, they said key inquiries for reforms in the bill, such as a new single body for the enforcement of labor rights – had not yet been answered by the government.

While the urgency of addressing Covid had delayed other areas of the policy, Taylor said more could have been done and suggested that conservatives were increasingly divided on how to proceed.

“I suspect they are caught on the horns of a dilemma, as they have deregulatory instincts that you would expect from a conservative government. And there is a business community that is very unhappy with Brexit, so they don’t want to be seen doing something that may appear to be putting more burdens on business, “he said.

“We see a government that does not want to abandon its commitment to good work, but also does not want to upset the deregulatory wing of its own party and parts of British business.”

Andy McDonald, the shadow labor rights secretary, said the bill needed to be moved forward. “Weak labor rights and almost non-existent enforcement have contributed to job and economic insecurity which has left the UK with the highest Covid death rate in the world and the worst economic crisis of any major economy,” he said.

Tim Sharp, Senior Labor Rights Policy Officer at the TUC, said: “It’s really disappointing that we haven’t seen it yet. It seems to give an idea of ​​where labor rights issues fall in the priority set. “

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It emerged last month that the government was reviewing options to change workers’ rights after Brexit amid concerns about the disruption of the border for businesses and a push from ministers to demonstrate the benefits of exiting the EU.

However, the new trade secretary, Kwasi Kwarteng, took a quick U-turn late last month, saying the work “is no longer done within the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.”

He added: “I made it very clear to department officials that we are not interested in undermining workers’ rights.”

However, opposition voices are concerned that revision being led by former Conservative leader Ian Duncan Smith in post-Brexit opportunities could be used to recommend diluting employment standards, in a process due to report to the prime minister in April.

Charities said the rise in unemployment caused by the Covid crisis increased the risk of unscrupulous employers abusing the law. Past recessions have also contributed to the growth of low-paid and precarious work that has trapped workers in poverty.

Dave Innes, chief economist at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said the ministers who delivered the Queen’s speech promised that the government could build a more secure future for workers hardest hit by the Covid recession.

“Only a recovery with a strong focus on good jobs, as opposed to any job, will help families that have been dragged into poverty during this crisis, as well as address existing failures in the labor market that have kept people trapped. “, He said. saying.

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