As working becomes more flexible and varied, the Good Work Plan aims to guarantee workers' protections, says Tina Chander.
01 April 2019 | Tina Chander
The government unveiled its Good Work Plan in December 2018 as a direct strategy to strengthen workers' rights and change employment laws.
Labelled "the biggest package of workplace reforms for over 20 years", the plan builds on the Taylor Review recommendations of February 2018 and outlines an intention to improve conditions for agency, zero-hour and other atypical workers.
Within this plan, the government commits to a wide range of policy and legislative changes, clarifying the relationship between employers and workers, while ensuring the enforcement system is fair and fit for purpose.
Requesting stable contracts
A major issue addressed is 'one-sided flexibility', which recognises some businesses have transferred too much business risk to the individual, affecting their financial security and personal well-being.
New legislation will give workers the right to request a more stable contract, so they can benefit from flexible working, without the financial uncertainty.
Those happy to work varied hours each week can do so, but others will be allowed to request a fixed working pattern after 26 weeks of service, giving workers greater control over their lives.
For those working on zero-hour contracts, this change will allow them to request a contract that guarantees a minimum number of weekly hours, which is crucial when looking to secure a mortgage.
Repealing Swedish derogation
The Good Work Plan also addresses Swedish derogation, which currently allows agency workers to exchange their right to be paid equally to permanent counterparts in return for a contract guaranteeing pay between assignments.
Although the original intentions of Swedish derogation were to offer reassurance that individuals would still earn during quieter periods, some employers have been using this opt-out to reduce the size of their pay bill.
Nowadays it is unusual for agency workers to have gaps between assignments, and in some cases, employers have devised schemes to keep their exposure to a minimum contrary to the requirements.
The government aims to repeal Swedish derogation with new legislation, banning the use of this type of contract to withhold equal pay rights. Instead, long-term agency workers will receive equal wages to permanent employees.
Tougher enforcement measures
The government plans to extend state enforcement for vulnerable workers, introducing tough financial penalties and an approach that already applies to underpayment of the national minimum wage.
This involves increasing enforcement protections for agency workers where
they have pay withheld or unclear deductions made, while new legislation will increase the maximum penalty imposed during employment tribunals on the grounds of aggravated breach.
These proposed changes would significantly change the enforcement landscape, naming and shaming employers who fail to pay tribunal awards on time and making workers aware of the rights they have.
Make sure to be prepared for the future
With the arrival of the Good Work Plan and continuing consultation on employment laws and legislation, 2019 will be a crucial year for businesses and workers alike.
This demonstrates clear intent by the government to look for new ways to improve the relationship between employers and employees through the implementation of legislation and tougher regulations.
Now is the perfect time to review the proposed changes and understand the requirements in greater detail, as non-compliance could cost organisations financially and damage their reputation.
If you're unsure about the Good Work Plan and wider developments, it is important to consult a legal team with significant experience of employment law and the imminent changes.
Tina Chander is a partner and head of the employment team at law firm Wright Hassall