A hard day’s night …

Photo by Xi Wang on Unsplash

What has European Union law done for workers in the UK?

This was a question that I found myself asking when reading about very poor working conditions and lengthy hours experienced by many Chinese teenagers working in factories in order to manufacture a product purchased and used by many Western consumers.

The answer to my question is quite a lot actually when you consider the impact of the EU Working Time Directive which was transposed into UK employment law as a result of the Working Time Regulations 1998.

The Working Time Regulations 1998 guarantees most workers (there are exceptions – aren’t there always?) the right not to be forced to work more than 48 hours per week.

It’s important to note that the category of worker has a broader meaning and is not merely confined to those people who are employees (i.e. have a contract of service as per Section 230 of the Employment Rights Act 1996). Many individuals who work under a contract for services will benefit from the protection of the Directive and the Regulations.

The Regulations also compel the employer to give workers regular breaks and they also regulate the amount of hours that the worker can be forced to work in any one day.

There is special protection for younger workers regarding breaks and the maximum daily hours that they are permitted to work.

The basic rights and protections that the Regulations provide are:

  • a limit of an average of 48 hours a week which a worker can be required to work (though workers can choose to work more if they wish by signing an opt-out) (Regulation 4)
  • a limit of an average of 8 hours work in each 24 hour period which night workers can be required to work (Regulation 6)
  • a right for night workers to receive free health assessments (Regulation 7)
  • a right to 11 hours rest a day (Regulation 10)
  • a right to a day off each week (Regulation 11)
  • a right to an in-work rest break if the working day is longer than 6 hours (Regulation 12)
  • a right to 5.6 weeks (or 28 days) paid leave per year

Admittedly, many UK and EU employers will have better working conditions than the list above, but in theory the Working Time Directive provides a basic safety net or floor of rights for workers.

It is normal practice, for many employers to have a collective or work-place agreement which governs the length of in-work rest breaks if the working day is longer than six hours.

If there is no such agreement, adult workers are entitled to a 20 minute uninterrupted break which should be spent away from the work-station and such a break should not be scheduled at the end of a shift.

Younger workers are entitled to a longer, uninterrupted break of 30 minutes if their working day is longer than four and a half hours and, similarly, this break should be spent away from a person’s workstation.

What a contrast then from conditions in Chinese factories. Although China may be on course to become the World’s largest economy, the human cost of achieving this goal is very high.

No one, of course, is saying that the situation in the UK and the EU is approaching utopia for workers. The Regulations (and ultimately the Directive) can and will be ignored by rogue employers. Furthermore, in work-places where trade unions are weak or non-existent, workers may not be aware of their rights or willing to enforce them.

Despite all this, at least UK and EU workers have some sort of legal means for challenging poor working conditions and the culture of lengthy hours.

One of the big fears about the consequences of Brexit has, of course, been the possible erosion of employment protection standards by a future UK Government and Parliament that might be committed to a more free market economic philosophy of labour relations.

A link to the story about working conditions in China can be found below:

Amazon Echo devices made by Chinese teens ‘working through night’ – reports

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 23 October 2019

Good work?

Photo by Maarten van den Heuvel on Unsplash

One of the consistent themes of my blog has concerned an individual’s employment status in the work-place – or the very real difficulties associated with the lack of such status.

Section 230(1) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 defines who is an “employee” in the following terms:

“… an individual who has entered into or works under (or, where the employment has ceased, worked under) a contract of employment.”

As I have stated on more than one occasion, those who have a contract of service rather than a contract for services tend to be in a much stronger position legally speaking when it comes to a range of employment rights such as:

  • Paternity and maternity pay/leave
  • Statutory adoption pay/leave
  • Consultation rights in redundancy and TUPE situations
  • Entitlement to redundancy payments
  • Entitlement to sick pay
  • Minimum notice periods
  • Protection against unfair dismissal

The above are just some of the rights that people with employment status potentially can acquire depending on their length (or continuity) of service with their employer.

Those individuals with more insecure working patterns (e.g zero hours and/or casual workers) will almost never be in a situation to acquire such rights because it is almost always impossible for them to build up the necessary period of continuous service with the organisations to which they provide services. Typically, many of these workers are part of what has become known as the “gig economy” where the feature of employment contracts known as mutuality of obligation is absent.

Admittedly, the UK Government has attempted to begin to address the disadvantages facing “gig economy” workers by setting up the Taylor Review (which published its findings in July 2017). The final report made 53 recommendations concerning modern, employment practices:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/good-work-the-taylor-review-of-modern-working-practices

The UK Government’s official response to the Taylor Review was entitled “Good Work” and a link to this document can be found below:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/679767/180206_BEIS_Good_Work_Report__Accessible_A4_.pdf

The desire to extend workers’ rights seems to be something of a trend as, in April 2019, the European Union also ratified a new Directive with the working title Transparent and predictable working conditions in the European Union. This Directive (for the remaining EU 27 member states) will certainly give casual workers greater legal rights, but given the current uncertainty over the UK’s Brexit position, it remains to be seen if this measure will ever be implemented in this country (for more information, see my blog entitled “The gig economy” which was published on 19 April 2019).

One of the most significant new rights that the UK Government is proposing to extend to non-employees is the right to sick pay from day 1 of their service. It is calculated that this reform (if implemented) will benefit some 2 million workers.

A link to how the story was reported by The Independent can be found below:

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.160719/data/9005291/index.html

Although employment law is a matter reserved to the Westminster Parliament, the Scottish Government has established its own Fair Work Convention with the express aim:

“… that, by 2025, people in Scotland will have a world-leading working life where fair work drives success, wellbeing and prosperity for individuals, businesses, organisations and society.”

A link to the Convention’s website can be found below:

https://www.fairworkconvention.scot

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 22 July 2019

Get me an Uber!

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

An interesting story today about industrial action being taken by taxi drivers working for Uber. The action is taking place in the USA and in cities across the UK (including Glasgow). It is designed to draw attention to working practices within the company before it lists its shares on the New York Stock Exchange.

Quite a few of my previous blogs have looked at employment status and the steady increase in the number of individuals who provide services to organisations but, critically, not under the traditional employment contract model.

Section 230(1) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 contains the definition of who precisely is an employee i.e. someone who has a contract of service. If you don’t have this type of contractual arrangement (you’re not an employee), you may well be working under a contract for services. This is one of the most important distinctions in employment law in the United Kingdom.

Those individuals working under a contract for services – precisely because of their lack of employment status – are often denied access to the sorts of legal rights which employees routinely take for granted e.g. unfair dismissal protection, redundancy protection, family friendly rights, rights to information and consultation etc.

Admittedly, employees will not acquire these rights from day 1 of their employment, but the critical difference in relation to people working under a contract for services is that they have the potential to obtain employment rights (by completing the requisite period of continuous service e.g. 2 years’ continuous service for entitlement to protection against unfair dismissal and for entitlement to a redundancy payment.

There’s now a growing awareness on both the part of the UK Government (The Taylor Review) and the European Union (the forthcoming EU Directive on Transparent and predictable working conditions) that people on contracts for services deserve greater levels of work-place protection.

The industrial action being taken by Uber drivers today is principally an attempt by these types of workers to secure better contractual terms and conditions. The law does now appear to be recognising that individuals working for organisations such as Uber (and Lyft) are not genuinely self-employed persons. Rather they should be categorised as workers with an entitlement to a basic level of legal protection (see the English Court of Appeal’s decision in Uber BV & Ors v Aslam & Ors [2018] EWCA Civ 2748 on appeal from UKEAT/0056/17/DA).

A link to the Aslam judgement can be found below:

https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/uber-bv-ors-v-aslam-ors-judgment-19.12.18.pdf

A link to an article on the BBC website about the industrial action can be found below:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-48190176

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 8 May 2019

The gig economy

Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash

On 16 April 2019, the European Parliament adopted measures in a new European Union Directive that will give workers providing services in the so called gig economy greater legal protection. The Directive will not apply to those individuals who are genuinely self-employed (see previous Blog: “Hello, I’m Lorraine and I’m definitely self-employed” published on 22 March 2019).

The final text of the Directive was adopted with 466 votes to 145 and 37 abstentions. The EU Council of Ministers had already approved the measures.

The EU member states will have three years to put the rules into practice.

The new Directive has a working title of the Transparent and predictable working conditions in the European Union. The Directive will eventually repeal Council Directive 91/533/EEC and it has been introduced using the Ordinary Legislative Procedure of the EU (formerly the Co-decision procedure).

Council Directive 91/533/EEC of 14 October 1991 related to an employer’s obligation to inform employees of the conditions applicable to the contract or employment relationship. Note the wording of this Directive title: it contains the key term of ’employees’, so casual workers were most definitely not covered by its provisions.

Member states will have 3 years in which to implement the new Directive.

Typically, in the popular imagination, gig economy workers are personified by the likes of Uber taxi drivers and Deliveroo couriers. In comparison to employees, gig economy workers tend to lack job security and have far fewer employment rights. Unlike employees who have a contract of service, gig economy workers have a contract for services (a key distinction in employment law).

In a press release issued via the official EU website (Europa), the main objectives of the new Directive are listed:

  • Basic rights (i.e. a floor of rights) for workers in casual or short term employment
  • Working conditions must be clearly stated on Day 1 of employment, and no later than 7 days in permitted circumstances
  • Limiting probationary periods to a maximum of 6 months

A link to the EU press release can be found below:

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20190410IPR37562/meps-approve-boost-to-workers-rights-in-the-gig-economy

A link to an infographic outlining the key objectives of the new Directive can be found below:

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/headlines/society/20190404STO35070/gig-economy-eu-law-to-improve-workers-rights-infographic

The Independent newspaper also reported the new Directive in its edition of 18 April 2019.

A link to the article can be found below:

https://edition.independent.co.uk/editions/uk.co.independent.issue.180419/data/8874676/index.html

The new Directive is firmly part of the EU’s Social Pillar which was itself adopted at Gothenburg, Sweden on 17 November 2017.

As European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker said at the time of the adoption of the Social Pillar:

“Today we commit ourselves to a set of 20 principles and rights. From the right to fair wages to the right to health care; from lifelong learning, a better work-life balance and gender equality to minimum income: with the European Pillar of Social Rights, the EU stands up for the rights of its citizens in a fast-changing world.”

 https://ec.europa.eu/commission/priorities/deeper-and-fairer-economic-and-monetary-union/european-pillar-social-rights_en

Brexit Alert!!!

At the moment, the UK has committed itself to leave the EU. The latest deadline for doing so is 31 October 2019. Will a future UK Parliament or Government choose to implement the provisions of the Directive if this country is an ex-member state of the EU? That really depends on the type of relationship that this country has with the EU 3 years from now. Any future trading agreement with the EU may contain provisions about minimum employment protection laws. We will just have to wait and see what happens. It seems rather sad that when the EU is passing a very progressive measure, the UK has decided to leave the organisation.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 19 April 2019

Strippers are workers too. Discuss.

Photo by Eric Nopanen on Unsplash

We had Lorraine Kelly and employment law in one of Friday’s blogs (Hello, I’m Lorraine and I’m definitely self-employed). Today, rather than TV personalities, we have strippers (which demonstrates the sheer breadth of this area of the law).

Anyway, a report on Sky News (Sunday 24 March 2019) highlighted the campaign by women working as strippers who wish to be classified as workers rather than self-employed individuals. A worker has, of course, a broader meaning than employee in both UK and EU employment law.

Workers enjoy, for example, protection under legislation such as the Working Time Regulations giving them access to holiday pay and minimum holiday entitlement, as well as regulating their working time (i.e. the 48 hour limit). The Part-time Workers (Prevention of Less Favourable Treatment) Regulations 2000 is also an important source of legal protection for workers.

In terms of Section 230 of the Employment Rights Act 1996, an employee is someone who has a contract of service. As I have stated in previous blogs, an employee has potential access to multiple employment rights – a situation which a worker or self-employed individual can really only dream about.

In the Sky News piece, the spokesperson for individuals providing services in the “adult entertainment” business makes an eloquent claim for greater legal rights. We hear tried and tested arguments about the level of control (arguably) which nightclubs have in relation to these individuals. This is an attempt to deploy the control test to the advantage of people working in this industry. Whether it will be a clinching argument which secures the status of worker for many people remains to be seen.

A link to the Sky News article and video can be seen below:

Strippers seek workers’ rights recognition

http://news.sky.com/video/share-11674273

This is not, however, the first time that an individual working in the “adult entertainment” industry has sought employment rights.

In Chapter 6 of Introductory Scots Law, I discuss the case of Quashie v Stringfellows Restaurants Ltd [2012] EWCA Civ 1735 where an individual argued that they had employment status and, therefore, the right to legal protection – principally in relation to unfair dismissal in terms of the Employment Rights Act 1996.

Quashie provided services as a lap dancer to two clubs, Stringfellows and Angels, both owned by Stringfellows Restaurants Ltd over a period of about 18 months. Stringfellows decided to dispense with Quashie’s services on 9 December 2008 because the management was suspicious that she was involved with drugs while working on the premises.

Quashie submitted a claim for unfair dismissal to an Employment Tribunal. The customers paid Quashie to dance – not Stringfellows Restaurants – and she had to pay the clubs a fee for the right to dance there. There was no barrier, in theory, to Quashie accepting engagements to dance at other clubs not owned by Stringfellows Restaurants – as long as she had not made a prior booking to dance at Stringfellows or Angels.

Holidays could be taken by Quashie when she wished, but so long as she completed a form giving advance warning of her intention to do this. Quashie received a club agreement from Stringfellows Restaurants which stated that she was an independent contractor. Admittedly, Stringfellows Restaurants did put Quashie on a rota to dance on a regular basis and a failure by her (or other dancers) to turn up for these shifts meant that she would be suspended from the clubs the following week and she would not be permitted to work.

The Employment Tribunal held that there was no mutuality of obligation between the parties and that Quashie was not an employee and that the right to claim unfair dismissal (Section 94: Employment Rights Act 1996) was not available to her. Quashie appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal. On appeal, the Employment Appeal Tribunal overturned the original decision of the Employment Tribunal and found Quashie to be an employee. Stringfellows Restaurants appealed to the English Court of Appeal.

Held: by the English Court of Appeal that the Employment Appeal Tribunal had erred and that the original Employment Tribunal decision should be reinstated: Quashie was not an employee as there was insufficient mutuality of obligation between the parties.

Conclusion

As reported in the Sky News piece, the argument being advanced that  strippers should be given worker status is clearly a more modest attempt to secure some employment rights for individuals working in this industry. It may be easier to win this argument than the contention that such individuals should be treated as employees (as occurred in Quashie). That said, it will be for judges to determine on a case by case basis who has employment status and who does not.

Postscript

In an attempt to secure better employment rights for women working in the “adult entertainment” industry, BBC Scotland reported in July 2019 that many lap dancers working in Glasgow had joined a trade union.

Please see a link to this story below:

The lap dancers who joined a union

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 25 March and 22 July 2019

Hello, I’m Lorraine and I’m definitely self-employed

Photo by Sam McGhee on Unsplash

I rarely tire of writing about employment status and today is no exception.

I never thought, however, that I would be talking about Lorraine Kelly, the well known British TV personality, and employment status in the same breath. I suppose there’s a first time for everything.

Anyway, Ms Kelly has just won an income tax dispute valued at £1.2 million with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC). She was able to demonstrate to the First Tier Tax Tribunal that she was not an employee of ITV, but rather she was a freelancer or a genuinely self-employed person. If you are classified as a freelancer or a self-employed person, you will be able, quite legitimately and courtesy of a competent accountant, to pay less in income tax to the Exchequer. Clearly, this situation will be more advantageous to higher, earning individuals such as Ms Kelly.

Judge Jennifer Dean, who chaired the Tribunal, was convinced that Ms Kelly was effectively a theatrical performer who was “presenting a persona of herself … she presents herself as a brand and that is the brand ITV sought when engaging her [my emphasis].”

Significantly, Ms Kelly was also able to show that ITV did not give her any employee or worker benefits such as holiday and sickness pay. There were also no restrictions placed on her ability to carry out work for other organisations.

I think that it would be safe to say that Judge Dean would have had Section 230 of the Employment Rights Act 1996 at the forefront of her reasoning when she decided that Ms Kelly does not have a contract of service with ITV, but rather she has a contract for services.

Employment status as a real issue does matter and, in Lorraine Kelly’s case, the lack of it will mean that she pays far less in income tax to HMRC.

On another point, Lorraine Kelly’s dispute with HMRC provides an insight into the work of specialist Tribunals. Members of the public probably have little awareness of the existence of the Tax Tribunal, but this story shines a light on an otherwise obscure part of the legal system.

A link to an article about the story on the BBC website can be found below:

Lorraine Kelly wins £1.2m tax case against HMRC over ITV work

HMRC claimed she was employed by ITV, but the judge ruled that Kelly’s TV persona is a daily performance.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 22 March 2019

Horses for courses: the equine flu affair

mikael-kristenson-27943-unsplash.jpg

Photo by Mikael Kristenson on Unsplash

Regular readers of this (relatively newish) wordpress site will be aware that blog entries dealing with employment relations tend to feature quite frequently.

In Chapter 6 of Introductory Scots Law, employment status is discussed i.e. whether someone has a contract of service (in terms of Section 230 of the Employment Rights Act 1996) or whether they are deemed to have some other legal status e.g. a freelancer or a casual worker which would mean that access to many of employment rights is simply not an option.

When teaching employment law courses to students, I often have to emphasise the distinction between contracts of service and contracts for services. The modern labour or employment market is undoubtedly complex (even fragmented). Many individuals may be working alongside one another but some will enjoy far better conditions of service because of their status as employees. For some individuals the most that they can aspire to is to be classified as a worker. It’s certainly not ideal, but it’s better than being someone who is engaged on a casual as required basis – with no employment protection.

You might wonder where on earth this leading? If you’re not a punter (seasoned or occasional), you might struggle to see how the recent outbreak of equine flu in the United Kingdom has got to do with employment status?  Quite a lot actually and it just goes to prove that every day is a school day – not just for students of employment law.

When casually tuning into BBC Breakfast’s sports bulletin today (14 February 2019), I learned something to do with horse racing and employment status: jockeys are self-employed individuals who usually take up a trainer’s offer of an appointment to ride a horse in return for an agreed fee. The jockey who appeared in the short news clip said that he was very glad that racing  had resumed after a 6 day health ban and that he could get back to work. In short: if he wasn’t working, he didn’t get paid.

Now, if jockeys were working under a contract of service (an employment contract), their employers would have common law duties to provide work (arguably) and/or to pay wages. If no work was available because of a  temporary problem (e.g. a public health scare), an employee would still expect to receive wages.

As I am now aware, the vast majority of jockeys (as genuinely self-employed persons) do not benefit in this way. It just goes to show you what you can learn from the morning sports bulletin. Maybe I’ll pay more attention in the future. It was certainly one of those gems that I could share with the students this morning … but then if I was a punter, perhaps I would already have been aware of a jockey’s employment status.

Copyright – Seán J Crossan, 14 February 2019