On Tuesday 14 March 2017 the Association attended a local panel discussion chaired by Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of Arts, who has been selected by the Prime Minister to lead an Independent Review of Employment Practices in the Modern Economy.
The scope of the Review is to consider how employment practices need to change to keep pace with modern business models. This is a topic that we will be discussing in further detail at the EEF’s Annual Conference on Wednesday, 7 June 2017.
The Review proposes to address 6 key themes:
- Security, pay and rights
- To what extent do emerging business practices put pressure on the trade-off between flexible labour and benefits such as higher pay or greater work availability, so that workers lose out on all dimensions?
- To what extent does the growth in non-standard forms of employment undermine the reach of policies like the National Living Wage, maternity and paternity rights, pensions auto-enrolment, sick pay, and holiday pay?
- Progression and training
- How can we facilitate and encourage professional development within the modern economy to the benefit of both employers and employees?
- The balance of rights and responsibilities
- Do current definitions of employment status need to be updated to reflect new forms of working created by emerging business models, such as on-demand platforms?
- Could we learn lessons from alternative forms of representation around the world?
- Opportunities for under-represented groups
- How can we harness modern employment to create opportunities for groups currently underrepresented in the labour market (the elderly, those with disabilities or caring responsibilities)?
- New business models
- How can government – nationally or locally – support a diverse ecology of business models enhancing the choices available to investors, consumers and workers?
At the discussion in Belfast Mr Taylor described his work as covering 3 key themes:
- Exploitation: How to tackle it, why it occurs and what we can do about it;
- Obtaining clarity on the law, especially around tax and employment status, for example whether a person is an employee, worker or self-employed. Mr Taylor noted that whilst UK tax laws extend to Northern Ireland, this is not the case with employment law which is a devolved matter for the NI Assembly. It will therefore be a matter for the Assembly to decide whether it wishes to act on the recommendations in his final report;
- Considering incentives, how they drive forms of behaviour and what can be done to align incentives to proper behaviour.
The intention is to pursue these 3 central themes without damaging job creation and flexibility whilst also encouraging the development of quality work.
The Belfast panel of 4 was made of up of representatives from: The Citizens Advice Bureau; Uber (accompanied by 2 Uber drivers working in a gig economy model); and the Irish Congress of Trade Union, together with a Chair of Academic Freelancers.
Whilst it was disappointing that the discussion focused on the traditional forms of employee, worker and self-employed and did not explore the huge range of atypical working arrangements that we see in modern businesses, nonetheless it became clear through the discussion that there are a number of complex issues to explore:
- Statistics provided reveal that 15% of the workforce in Northern Ireland are self-employed with approximately 52% of those reporting that they feel very insecure in their work;
- Other commentators suggested that whilst 75% of the self-employed are happy with their self-employment status, 25% would prefer to be doing something else;
- Many like the flexibility, and advantages of direct pay, that comes with being self-employed, and in return are happy to accept the lessening of rights such as holiday pay and National Minimum Wage. It is difficult to see how it will be possible to increase rights without sacrificing some of this flexibility. Additionally, as the economy in Northern Ireland is predominantly SME based, it may mean a different solution is appropriate here;
- Without doubt one of the biggest challenges in Northern Ireland will be skills shortages and how to ensure we have sufficient appropriately trained persons to take up the rolling range of jobs available in our economy; this coupled with Brexit may make the outlook for the economy more uncertain.
The discussion ended with Mr Taylor emphasising that he wants to encourage a shift in thinking about how we work. His parting words were that if we want to work, whether in a modern or traditional fashion, then jobs must be fair and decent and have the scope to enable people to develop and be fulfilled in their work. This certainly is an ideal that we would all like to see in the workplace but we must wait to see how he proposes to achieve that. Indeed, in Northern Ireland we will have to wait to see if the Assembly, if one emerges from the latest election, puts this on their agenda as an important issue for the Department of the Economy.
Karen Moore will be speaking about this topic at our Annual Conference. Anyone wishing to attend should contact John Gibson at firstname.lastname@example.org