Modernise laws to get more people working and maximise economic gains

The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) is advising policymakers to amend labour laws, so they become fit for the modern, more flexible labour market. Changes will make it easier for employers to comply with employment legislation and for workers to understand their rights.   

The proposed changes should enable more people to participate flexibly in the labour market, which will also drive increased economic growth. New research by the World Employment Confederation (WEC) reinforces the need to better enable temporary working not just in the UK but globally. WEC’s recent survey of 680 of the Forbes 2000 companies found that 83% of firms say employees place as much value on having flexibility in their work, as they do on things like pay and other benefits. The survey also found that eight in ten of the UK companies questioned want to increase their use of agency workers as they adapt to a faster-changing world. That makes effectively protecting flexible workers all the more important.

Yet despite more people wanting to work flexibly, the WEC survey finds that existing legislative barriers are deterring workers from choosing shorter-term contracts. A total of 83% of the global businesses surveyed also want simplified rules.

REC Deputy Chief Executive Kate Shoesmith said: 

“Protecting workers matters – so we are looking to modernise our laws, not water them down. For too long, our law has treated temporary and flexible workers as if they are somehow runners up to permanent workers. The presumption by law makers is that they should want to work like people did when these laws were first brought in, back in the 1970s, but people now want more control over their careers. It is time to wake up to reality and update laws to reflect the balance we are all striking between work and other responsibilities. Rather than regulating contracts, we should focus on abolishing poor treatment with better legislation and proper enforcement. That way, we’ll access the full benefits of our flexible labour market, opening up opportunities and helping the UK thrive.”

This makes the REC’s ‘Labour laws fit for the future’ recommendations published today (22 May), a timely guide for policymakers looking to enable growth and boost employment. The analysis by the REC’s legal team is based on a deep understanding of employment practices as they are now. Updating labour laws would mean all organisations, such as umbrella companies who are often responsible for employing, contracting and / or paying workers, being held accountable for meeting the standards expected of other types of employers.

REC’s report is advocating for changes to the following:

  • The Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Act 2023 overlooks the complex tripartite relationship in agency work, as it proposes allowing agency workers to request contracts directly from the end hirer. We should focus on effective requests from agency workers to agencies, rather than involving clients. This will be far more effective.
  • The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 treats agency workers as self-employed, however, in terms of the actual day-to-day work these workers do, they are more akin to employees – something that needs to change urgently to ensure their safety in the workplace.
  • REC suggests introducing clearer rules around who qualifies for Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) and when, to make it simpler to administer for businesses and for workers to benefit.
  • We need to bring clarity back around which employees and workers TUPE Regulations apply to. The current legal guidelines can be interpreted differently by employers leading to varied treatment of agency workers under the TUPE process.
  • The recruitment supply chain has evolved in recent years with organisations, such as umbrellas which are responsible for employing, contracting and / or paying workers today, yet are not subject to regulations that protects the workers they engage.
  • Changes to these areas need to follow the example set recently with the Working Time Regulations 1998, where government consulted on introducing new definitions, integrating case law into the regulations and agency worker specific details which have now been introduced to improve clarity and efficiency in the application of these rules.

Kate Shoesmith added: 

“The UK labour market is evolving and flexible work, such as agency work, is an established part of the economy both here and abroad, as shown by the World Employment Confederation’s research.

“Acting on our recommendations will create a better set of labour laws which fit how people choose to live and work now.”