The Law Society has called for ’independent government inspectors’ to be deployed to probe whether businesses are breaking employment laws or exploiting their staff.
In recommendations published today, Chancery Lane say inspectors should be able to enter workplaces and see whether staff are employees, workers or independent contractors.
The recommendations appear in the Society’s submission to a government-commissioned review of employment practices being carried out by Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. The review, ordered amid concerns about conditions in the so-called ‘gig economy’, is due to be published in the next few weeks.
In its submission the Society said ‘now is the time for government and public policy makers to build upon the current employment law framework so that it is in tune with the evolving economy’.
The Society also calls for the immediate scrapping of employment tribunal fees.
Employment practices in web-based businesses have been under increased scrutiny recently.
The GMB trade union has started separate legal cases against businesses it believes are treating their workers as self-employed contractors rather than employed staff. Courier companies UK Express and DX and taxi service Addison Lee are among the companies it has brought action against.
If drivers were classed as workers rather than self-employed they would be legally entitled to benefits including paid annual leave, the national minimum wage, paid rest breaks and whistle-blower protection.
Currently, if a worker feels aggrieved they have to challenge their employer in a tribunal. However, the number of employment tribunal hearings has plummeted since the government started to charge claimants a fee to bring a case in 2013.
The Society says its members have reported instances of claimants with strong cases who see the fee as a significant deterrent to pursuing a complaint.
Law Society President Robert Bourns said: ‘Our rights at work are not optional - they are the minimum standard to which we are entitled.’
‘When there is a dispute our law relies on individuals taking their employer to court to get their rights recognised - a task that is simply beyond most people. An independent government inspector who can go into a business to ensure staff are being given their proper workplace rights will help put a stop to this exploitation, and put everyone on a fair and even playing field.’
The Society has also called for employment statuses and rights to be clearly defined in a single piece of law, and for large employers to report publicly on their employment practices.