I’ve just posted this on a CIPD discussion forum on Good Work, so thought I’d repeat it here…
It’s great to hear that the CIPD is championing Good Work and encouraging the HR profession to think more broadly about Work as a topic.
Work is not just jobs and employment. Good work is not just engaging with employees and providing them with rewarding conditions of employment. Work is an activity carried out by people in order to produce a result.
To provide a product or service to a customer in exchange for payment is work. Many people do ‘work’ for charities and don’t get paid but they get other rewards. We have to include all these activities in the definition of good work.
The Taylor Review recognises that we are seeing a major change in the way work is performed. Platforms, such as Uber or Ebay provide individuals with an opportunity to do paid work for a customer. Hence we have seen a growth in self-employment where individuals take responsibility for their own benefits but have control over when, where and how they get work done.
What Taylor tries to do is to apply ‘good jobs’ criteria to ‘platform’ work by creating the ‘dependent contractor’ category. This misses the point that many of these workers enjoy the independence of not being an employee and are prepared to miss out on benefits in exchange for being their own boss. Are we in danger of applying ‘good jobs’ criteria in a world where ‘jobs’ are giving way to ‘work’.
One example of this is the assumption that work is measured by the hour. This conflicts with the idea of paying for a service or product based on what it is worth not how long it takes. Why should I pay an incompetent plumber for two hours work when the leak could have been fixed in an hour? This leads to confusion for platforms like Uber, where I’m happy to pay a fee for someone to drive me from A to B and there is no ‘rate per hour’ involved. Trying to apply National Minimum Wage in these circumstances becomes meaningless. (Maybe Universal Basic Income is the answer but that’s a whole separate topic!)
Yes, we should stop unscrupulous employers from exploiting people by classifying them as self-employed to save NI contributions and avoid employment legislation. But we need to move away from the assumption that a secure lifetime career with a responsible employer is good work and the ‘gig economy’ is bad work. At least Taylor didn’t fall into the trap of condemning all zero hours contracts, but recognised that they bring valuable flexibility and are popular among the majority of people involved.