My Summary of this recent report on Modern Working Practices fronted by Mathew Taylor of the RSA – I’ve had be selective and modified some of the chapter headings so they reflect more clearly the content of each chapter – IMO this is a pretty accurate, much briefer and more readable summary of the report…
Personally I’d label this as part of a neoliberal policy agenda (well it certainly isn’t left wing!) – I say this because it identifies ‘flexible working’ as a strength of the UK economy and recommends that ‘responsible corporate governance’ rather than regulation is the best way to improve working conditions for the lower paid in the UK.
Chapter 2 – The Scope of the Report
The authors of the report believe that ‘all work in the UK economy should be fair and decent with realistic scope for development and fulfilment’, and the aim of the report is to suggest some policy changes which can make work ‘work’ better for more people.
‘Good work’ (defined in the next chapter) matters for several reasons: it is crucial to ensure a decent income, opportunities for individual progress, health, productivity, trust and responsibility and enabling us to adapt to change.
The report points out more than once that work for most people is not actually that bad – most people are in full-time employment and once we factor in benefits, take home pay for households with a member in full-time employment is higher than the other G7 countries.
Where more ‘precarious jobs’ are concerned, the report actually identifies flexible working as a distinct strength of the UK labour market and does not advocate increased regulation of employers, suggesting that the problems associated with the so called gig-economy are best dealt with within the existing regulatory framework.
‘We advocate change but in doing so we seek to build on the distinctive strengths of our existing labour market and framework of regulation’.
There are three broad challenges which need to be met in order to make work ‘good’ for more people:
- Tackling exploitation and the potential for exploitation at work;
- Increasing clarity in the law and helping people know and exercise their rights; and
- Over the longer term, aligning the incentives driving the nature of our labour market with our modern industrial strategy and broader national objectives.
The study recommends seven steps towards fair and decent work with realistic scope for development and fulfilment
- We need a national strategy to create ‘good work for all’ which balances rights and responsibilities: Good work basically means
- Everyone has a baseline of protection and there should be routes to enable progression at work (rights)
- Taxation of labour needs to be more consistent across employment (responsibilities)
- Work and workers need to be able to adapt to new opportunities, technology is crucial to this.
- Platform based working is good because it’s more flexible, but we should be clearer about how to distinguish workers from those who are legitimately self-employed.
- We shouldn’t increase the amount it costs employees to hire people, we also need to give ‘dependent contractors’ more protections to make sure employees don’t shaft them.
- The best way to achieve better work is not national regulation but responsible corporate governance.
- There needs to be more on the job training opportunities so people can progress in work, workers need more control over this.
- We need to develop a more proactive approach to workplace health.
- We need to maintain the national living wage and provide opportunities to help people progress out of low-paid, minimum wage work so they are not stuck there forever.
Chapter 3: What is Quality Work?
This section examines what is meant by ‘quality work’ – and identifies a number of problems in identifying what ‘quality work’ means.
- People are driven by different motivations at different points in their career and so what represents quality to them now may not represent quality ten years later;
- People have very different subjective interpretations of what counts as ‘quality work’ – the report came across examples of people doing the same job who reported that it was the ‘best’ and ‘worse’ job they had ever had.
- Pay is only one aspect in determining quality work; A recent British Social Attitude Survey revealed that for more than 50% of the UK workforce, a job means far more than just wages – for many people fulfilment, personal development, work life balance or flexibility are just as important to many people – and so we need to measure all of these aspects to find out what quality work is!
The Review takes the ‘QuInnE’ model of job quality, developed by the Institute of Employment Research and others, which outlines six high level indicators of quality:
- Wages – pay is an important indicator of quality of work, which includes not just wages but also other in work benefits including pensions. The amount someone earns relative to their peers can also affect one’s satisfaction with one’s wages; and there are potential problems with wage insecurity where flexible working is concerned – higher wages may be undermined by insecurity of working hours.
- Employment quality – covers such things as job security and whether there is a culture of unpaid overtime.
- Education and training – upskilling is a crucial way in which people can be supported to develop their skills at work in a meaningful way, and yet the amount of people receiving in-work training decreased from 10% to just 6% of the workforce between 2010 and 2016.
- Working conditions – this covers the amount of control workers have over their work, and the amount of autonomy at work – the increasing shift to self-employment and platform based working suggests that there is increasing demand for more autonomy at work.
- Work life balance – 75% of workers report that they are satisfied with their ability to set their own working hours, while 68% report that they are satisfied with their work-life balance. Certain groups believe flexible working is more important – almost twice as many women as men report that flexible working is ‘very important.
- Consultative participation & collective representation – having a greater say in the organisational decisions which shape work can result in greater well-being at work.
Quality work as a series of trade-offs
This section rounds off by seeming to suggest that workers can’t have it all – if they want greater flexibility, they are probably going to have to settle for lower wages for example – but that it’s important to give people the freedom of opportunity to decide what trade-offs they want to make.
The rest of the report outlines the ‘state of the UK labour market’ before going on to outline more specific details of how we can make work better for more people’.
‘Good Work – A Summary, Part 2 – An overview of the UK Labour Market and Challenges to Future Work.
‘Good Work – A Summary, Part 3 – How to make work better for more people.