Matthew Taylor: ‘Government losing interest in reforms’

Matthew Taylor, former interim director of labour market enforcement. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire/PA Images

Matthew Taylor, whose contract as interim director of labour market enforcement expired last month, has said there is a ‘deafening silence’ from the government over employment reforms.

Taylor told the Guardian newspaper that reforms in areas such as zero-hour contracts and the gig economy, some of which were laid in his Good Work Plan of 2017 and were approved by the government, may have slipped from the agenda as the Conservatives had become uncertain about the way forward on labour laws because of the impact of Brexit and the Covid pandemic.

His comments came on the eve of a potentially landmark ruling by the UK’s Supreme Court on the future of the gig economy with a decision scheduled in the Uber v Aslam case on Friday 19 February.

Although the government had pledged to make the UK “the best place in the world to work” in the Queen’s Speech of December 2019 when the reforms were set out, its enthusiasm for the reforms had since wilted, Taylor told the Guardian.

The employment bill that had been pledged before the UK formally left the EU – was unlikely to be launched until late 2021 or even early 2022, government sources have stated.

Taylor told the newspaper: “We have seen a gradual but unmistakable deceleration of the government reform agenda in relation to good work. There was an initial enthusiasm but that has waned, and waned, and waned.”

He added: “I suspect they are caught in the horns of a dilemma, in that they have deregulatory instincts you would expect of a Conservative government.” Businesses were very unhappy about Brexit, he said, so ministers didn’t want to look as if they were adding extra burdens.

Taylor’s role as employment rights tsar remains vacant after his term expired in January. Around the same time, business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng confirmed that a review of workers’ rights that may have removed some regulation, had been abandoned.

A government spokesman said: “We remain ​firmly committed to ​upholding high standards and to delivering legislation that ensures we have an employment framework that is fit for purpose in the 21st century.” He added that time for scheduling the bill was the key issue.

Pressure on the government to reform the labour market has also come from within the Conservative Party with the House of Commons women and equalities committee saying last week that the bill was vital for protecting female workers disproportionately hit by the pandemic. Caroline Nokes, the group’s Conservative chair, said it was important the bill arrived before the end of June.

Meanwhile, opposition leader Keir Starmer has stated that Labour must work more closely with business, giving it a key role in dealing with social responsibilities and the climate emergency. He said: “A fair society will lead to a more prosperous economy.”

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