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Government publishes "Good Work Plan" to reform agency and zero-hour worker rights

The Government has responded to 2017’s Taylor Review by publishing a “Good Work Plan”, in which it sets out a number of proposed changes to employment law, in particular in relation to those workers with (what were once) atypical working arrangements such as agency workers and zero-hours workers.  However, for the most part, these proposals are just that, and do not contain any firm commitments as to the contents of any legislation or suggestions as to likely timetables.

In relation to atypical workers, the Government has indicated that it would seek to change the current rules on continuity of employment, with a break of up to four weeks between contracts not interrupting continuity of service (compared with just one week at the moment).  The Good Work Plan also seeks to extend the existing right of employees to receive a written statement of terms and conditions so that this would have to be provided to all workers.  In addition, this statement would have to be provided from “day one”, as opposed to within the first two months.

Other reforms covered include proposals for better enforcement of existing rights.  The possible fine for employers who display “aggravating conduct” in breaching employment rights would increase to £20,000 (from £5,000).  The Government has also suggested the accelerated introduction of a single enforcement body that would ensure that workers receive better protection from practices such as non-payment of wages or holiday pay.  

The Good Work Plan acknowledges the Taylor Review’s finding that having different employment status tests for the purposes of employment law and for tax liability is unhelpful, and so proposes that renewed efforts are used to streamline these as much as possible, with any differences being reduced to a minimum.

However, there is little in the proposals to suggest that aggressive steps would be taken to address misuse of zero-hour contracts by employers.  The Government indicates that it is considering introducing a “right to request” a fixed working pattern after 26 weeks, but with nothing (at this stage) to suggest that an employer would be compelled to grant such a request.

If introduced, the proposals in the Good Work Plan would offer helpful clarification and alignment in a number of areas.  However, with no published timetables at this stage, it is very much a case of “wait and see”.