LONDON (Reuters) - Prime Minister Theresa May tried to wrest back control of Britain’s political agenda on Tuesday by reviving her pledge to introduce sweeping social reforms at the launch of a report on how to better protect workers in the “gig economy”.
May wants to signal that it is business as usual for her government after an ill-judged election gamble damaged her authority and eliminated her governing Conservatives’ majority in parliament, emboldening the main opposition Labour Party.
The review into employment practices, which she ordered after becoming prime minister a year ago, is viewed as a bid to show that her promise to help poorer Britons who are “just about managing” is more than just a slogan.
The review, compiled by Chief Executive of The Royal Society of Arts Matthew Taylor, says many of those Britons working for companies such as taxi app Uber and takeaway food courier Deliveroo should receive more benefits such as the minimum wage.
May said her government would consider the findings of the report, but stopped short of promising to implement it in full.
“What’s clear from Matthew’s report is that our response to the changing world of work cannot be to try to stop the clock,” May said. “While avoiding overbearing regulation, we will make sure people have the rights and protections they need.”
She also urged her political rivals to “contribute, not just criticise” her plans - a move reflecting both her need for help to push reforms through parliament and her resolve to press ahead despite questions about her future as leader.
More and more people are working for apps in fast-growing sectors such as takeaway delivery and taxi services. While wanting the flexibility such work offers, some say they are left without the protections that traditional jobs offer.
Last year, judges sided with two self-employed drivers at Uber who had argued that they deserve workers’ rights such as the minimum wage. The move would add to the San Francisco-based firm’s costs and this prompted it to appeal.
Responding to the review on Tuesday, Uber said it would welcome greater clarity in the law, while Deliveroo said any attempt to limit job flexibility could undermine the gig economy and that any new measures should avoid restricting their ability to expand.
In Britain, the self-employed have no entitlement to employment rights beyond basic health and safety and anti-discrimination laws.
But the review proposes renaming workers such as those operating in the gig economy as “dependent contractors”, with many of them becoming entitled to annual leave, rest breaks and the minimum wage.
Firms would have to prove that an average person, working “averagely hard”, is able to earn the national living wage, which stands at 7.50 pounds ($9.65) an hour for the over-25s, with a 20 percent margin of error, it said.
“The best way to achieve better work is not national regulation but responsible corporate governance, good management and strong employment relations within the organization.”
But Britain’s biggest union Unite said the government needed to make sure entitlements were upheld.
May hopes the report will woo working class voters, but the Labour opposition said it did little more than highlight the Conservatives’ record of “failing working people”.
“If they were serious about workers’ rights they are welcome to borrow from Labour’s manifesto,” said Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour’s business spokeswoman.
Writing by Elizabeth Piper, Costas Pitas and William James; Editing by Gareth Jones