Episode 2

Stop Exploitation of Gig Economy Workers? Change The Tax System!

In this interview, Taylor argues for a change in the UK tax system to stop exploitation of workers in the gig economy as he considers them particularly vulnerable to unscrupulous firms. He’s also unconvinced that the recent Surpreme Court judgement in the Uber case will have any lasting impact. He argues that case law isn’t the same as a change in the law and the Government have essentially outsourced employment law legislation to the courts.

About my guest

Matthew Taylor is the outgoing CEO of the Royal Society for Arts Manufacturers and Commerce, more commonly known as the RSA, and the former interim director of Labour Market Enforcement, the body created to tackle non-compliance with employment legislation. His 2017 independent report into modern work practises, commonly referred to as The Taylor Review, was the basis of the government’s Good Work Plan.

Taylor is also a former Director of Policy and Chief Advisor on Strategy to the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, a former Director of the Think Tank, The Institute for Public Policy Research, and a regular panellist for BBC’s Radio Four programme, The Moral Maze. Matthew was awarded a CBE in 2019 for services to employment right


Chris]: If you’re enjoying the Oven-Ready HR Podcast, please do rate and review us and feel free to share with your network. To find out more about Chris Taylor, your host, visit OvenReadyHR.com and follow us on Twitter @OvenHR. Thank you.

In 2019’s Queen’s speech, the government under the premiership of Boris Johnson committed to making the UK the best place in the world in which to work. Ambitious, for sure, against the backdrop of the UK’s departure from the EU and genuine concerns surrounding workers’ rights and protections. The speech promised the introduction of a new employment bill that was seeked to promote fairness and security for workers, yet at the same time, it’s sharing flexibility for the economy, a difficult balancing act for any administration to achieve when many observers considered the two mutually exclusive.

Fast forward to March 2021, and The Employment Bill isn’t yet ready to present to parliament, and it’s rumoured that it won’t be ready until the end of 2021 at the earliest. Added to this, the government have also embarked on delivering their levelling up fund, a pot of money to address structural inequality and level up left behind parts of the UK, perhaps even more important than ever against the backdrop of rising unemployment in an economy rapid by COVID.

At the very heart of the debate about the future of work in the UK is this week’s Oven-Ready HR guest. Matthew Taylor is the outgoing CEO of the Royal Society for Arts Manufacturers and Commerce, more commonly known as the RSA, and the former interim director of Labour Market Enforcement, the body created to tackle non-compliance with employment legislation. His 2017 independent report into modern work practises, commonly referred to as The Taylor Review, was the basis of the government’s Good Work Plan.

Matthew Taylor is also a former Director of Policy and Chief Advisor on Strategy to the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, a former Director of the Think Tank, The Institute for Public Policy Research, and a regular panellist for BBC’s radio falls, The Moral Maze. Matthew was awarded a CBE in 2019 for services to employment rights. Welcome, Matthew. How are you?

[Matthew]: I’m fine. Thank you. I’ve got a glass splinter in my finger, and I’m not sure whether I’ll have to work its way out or whether I should go to the [inaudible 00:02:19] splinter. Otherwise, apart from being slightly distracted by the pain in my finger and not knowing what to do about it, I’m fine.

[Chris]: Okay. All right. We’ll go through this quickly in case you have to dial the hospital or anything like that. Now, you’ve been immersed in the debate about the future of work in the UK for a long time now. Give me a sense of where we are.

[Matthew]: Well, I think we’re in a position of uncertainty, really. As you say, the government is still ostensibly committed to The Good Work Agenda.

[Chris]: Yeah.

[Matthew]: Still extensively committed to taking forward action in relation to many of the recommendations that were in my 2017 report to Theresa May, but here we are more than three years on, and it’s not simply that The Employment Bill, which would be necessary to implement those measures hasn’t been published. One might understand that in view of COVID and Brexit and other pressures. Instead, there is an eerie silence from the government on their intentions in relation to their Employment Bill.

I would be entirely reassured. Were the Secretary State [inaudible 00:03:39] or the Minister in the Department of the State or Prime Minister or the Chancellor to say, “We are deeply committed to the measures that we’ve discussed in The Employment Bill. We want a really great single enforcement body. We want to clarify the issue of employment status. We want to take forth measures like a right to request fixed hours or fines for late cancellation of shifts by businesses. It’s difficult to draft these things. It’ll take a while, but we are going to take this forward.”

[Chris]: Yeah.

[Matthew]: But we’re not hearing that, and instead, we have this peculiar episode where the Secretary of State, The Business Department said he was going to want to take a consultation on removing EU regulations on working time. There was then a kind of backlash because this was, of course, absolutely, and explicitly in defiance of reassurances that have been given repeatedly by Brexit advocates that they weren’t going to use Brexit as an opportunity to tear up appointment recollections. Then, a few days later, that consultation with withdrawn. However, at the same time, Number 10 brief that it was establishing a deregulation task force under arch Neo Liberally and Duncan Smith.

So, it’s a confused position, and I think what that leads to is people like me who want to view things positively, who tend to try to assume the best, who assume that the reason that government doesn’t do the right thing is often just because it’s difficult. We’re kind of holding on to our hope, but those people who are more sceptical, I think, have abandoned hope, now assuming that whole Good Work Agenda that goes all the way back to my appointment.

We’re talking about getting on for five years now, that the Conservative Party has said, “But we are the policy that cares about vulnerable workers.” That maybe that agenda’s run out to Steven. The decision, not only to ask me to stand down [inaudible 00:05:41] market forces, which is fine, my contract to come to an end, but not to appoint anyone to replace me and to turn down my offer of continuing in the role week by week, even unpaid if necessary, so that the team had a director.

[Chris]: Yeah.

[Matthew]: The fact that was turned down can just add [inaudible 00:05:58]. That’s a tiny, tiny issue of interest and importance to virtually nobody apart from me and my small team of civil servants, but It just adds to people’s concerns.

[Chris]: Okay. So, the government then isn’t—you don’t think it’s serious when it says, “it doesn’t want to water down employment rights.” Is that fair?

[Matthew]: Well, it’s not a matter of watering down employment rights, generally speaking. I mean, there are no proposals to do that, apart from this misguided EU consultation exercise. It’s terminated. We’re talking about enhancing employment protections. We’re talking about recognising that there are various forms of work, which at their heart involve the transfer of risk from the shoulders of companies to the shoulders of, generally speaking, the most vulnerable workers.

What we’re saying, and this is the phrase I used in my report, is that flexibility is okay. By the way, you’ve got that notion that flexibility is okay. It’s one that’s rejected by many on the left. I remember going to do a talk in the French Embassy after my report in talking about flexibility and having to realise that the very word “flexibility” was viewed in a hostile way by our French hosts.

[Chris]: Tainted. Yeah.

[Matthew]: Yeah. So, I argued in the report that flexibility is fine, but it’s got to be two-way flexibility. It’s got to be flexibility that benefits the worker, the individual, as well as flexibility that benefits the employer, and that is not the situation at the moment. At the moment, casual work, particularly zero-hours or low-hours work where you’re contracted to do no hours on contracted to do a very small number of hours and routinely, you do more hours than that. And gig work where often people are portrayed as self-employed. When as we’ve seen from the courts, they look more like workers.

Both of those forms of work need to be understood as involving, on the one hand, the attempt to minimise costs. For example, not having to pay Employers National Insurance, not having to pay for holiday pay. But they also involve, and this is the second very important part, the massive transfer of risk.

You see, I’m the Chief Executive of the RSA. If I wanted to lay off staff, and you know we’ve had a hard time financially. I would need to consult them. I would need to potentially think about redundancy pay. I would need to talk to my other staff colleagues who care a lot about fairness and explain why this was necessary and deal with the very hard questions that I would and should be asked by my colleagues.

[Chris]: Yeah.

[Matthew]: That’s because I employ people, but if you’re Uber or delivery, or if you have zero-hours workers and you decide you need fewer workers, you just don’t employ them. It doesn’t cost you anything at all, but all the risk falls on the shoulder of the vulnerable worker. For me, that goes against a sense of natural justice, and it’s pretty clear to me that that’s what the public feels too.

[Chris]: I mean, there’s almost a sense of almost Victorian times, isn’t it, and certainly how we find ourselves? Actually, it does seem that if you are in the gig economy, that there really is very little in the way of any protection whatsoever, is there?

[Matthew]: Well, I think it’s important here to make a distinction, which is that if you are an employee, then you have pretty good protections. There are things that one might want to tweak. I think, to take one example. I don’t think we do enough to protect pregnant women in terms of the way in which I think, often, they suffer from discrimination in various ways, either when they’re pregnant or returning to work. So, I think there are things that we could do more about.

But generally speaking, if you’re an employee, you’ve got a pretty good framework of rights and protection. The problem is partly because of the fact that employees do get those rights and protections. We have attempts to circumvent that through, on the one hand, having people who are workers, who don’t have those protections, zero-hours workers, casual workers who don’t have the same set of protections, particularly in relation to unfair dismissal.

[Chris]: Yeah.

[Matthew]: So, you can just kind of get rid of them. On the other hand, we have attempts by platforms like Uber to portray people who look to many people like workers because they’re subject to control and supervision by the platform. They’re being treated as if they were self-employed, and if you are self-employed, you have virtually no protections.

[Chris]: I mean, the recent Supreme Court Judgment in the Uber case. So, this is definitive now. Drivers are considered as workers, and they’re not self-employed. This is going to have quite far-reaching consequences. Isn’t it?

[Matthew]: No, I’m afraid that’s wrong.

[Chris]: Really?

[Matthew]: Yeah, and the reason it’s wrong is because the way the courts work is that this was a Civil Case taken through The Employment Tribunal. It only applies to those people who brought the case. Now, it could be said to lay down a principle, which then applies to other people in exactly the same circumstances. And it could be the Uber would be subject to higher fines and punishments. If they didn’t do something about workers who had exactly the same contract and to whom exactly the same rules apply.

But of course, Uber’s response to that judgement, as I understand it, has been to say, “Oh yes, well, that was 2016 or 2018. We’ve tweaked our contract now.” So, the problem is the second you tweak the contract, the whole process, which I think lasted two or three years, the whole process starts again.

[Chris]: Right.

[Matthew]: That’s the problem, you see, we are relying on the courts to do work that ought to be done by legislations. The problem with the courts is the courts are only making a judgement on the case that is put in front of them. They’re not changing the law. They’re changing the case law, but they’re not changing the law.

Uber, I don’t think Uber has got any intention to make its drivers workers, as far as I know. Its defensive is, “Well, Okay. We might.” You know, they’re pretty ungracious about the whole thing. They don’t really accept the outcome of that’s where it is, but they’ve used, “Well, this is misguided, but it doesn’t really matter because we’ve tweaked the contract.”

[Chris]: Okay. But we do need, though, don’t we, legislation to tidy up what is really, quite a major headache for HR people, for people employing people is actually quite difficult to define if they’re an employee, they’re a worker, they’re, self-employed. There are various different tests you have to go through, the mutual obligations test, all the rest of it. Sometimes it can be very difficult to work out where this person or this individual actually sits.

[Matthew]: Yeah. So, that’s absolutely right, and I think that all we have basically is a system that doesn’t work.

[Chris]: No.

[Matthew]: It’s a historical hangover. I said in my report, and I still very strongly believe that “ultimately we may need to move to a situation where firstly, we do not tax labour differently, depending on who provides it.”

[Chris]: Right.

[Matthew]: I always have to say, when I give this example, I have a small valve, but let’s imagine I had a big goal. If I was to employ a gardener who self-employment, or alternatively, I was to point gardener is employed by Lamb with Gardening Services. The first person I would not have to pay Employers National Insurance towards whatever their costs are. The second I would have to pay because Lamb with Gardening Services would be paying employers National Insurance, and I would have, therefore, in the fee that I paid for that garden’s time to cover that cost.

Now, there is no justification for that. You might say, “Well, self-employment is a good thing. We like self-employment, and therefore we’re going to give, for example, tax breaks.” So that we might say quite reasonably the self-employed person, if they buy a lawnmower or whatever, they can get a tax break for that.

[Chris]: Yeah.

[Matthew]: Well, that’s fine. There are lots of things that you might want to do to foster entrepreneurship, to foster investment, which I’ve seen the Chancellor create an unbelievably large amount of money to try to generate investment and bridge business. So, there are ways in which you can do that, but taxing labour differently makes no sense at all.

You might even want to persist with the situation where self-employed people pay lower National Insurance. Although, even there, I agree with what Philip Hammond tried to do a few years ago, which was in recognition of the fact that self-employed people now have full access to the state pension that actually the National Insurance difference, the differential, the lower National Insurance self-employed people paid isn’t an acronym.

But even if you didn’t want to get into those choppy waters, the issue is how much the employer pays, not how much the individual pays. There is no justification for employers having to pay more tax on labour of people they employ than tax they pay on labour of people who they hire but don’t employ. That’s the first thing I do. Out of stroke, if you did that, you’d make the system much simpler, and you’ve reduced significantly the incentives of bogus self-employment.

The second thing I would do is I would align the tax rules and the employment regulation rules. Because another thing that is problematic is that under tax law, tax rules, there are only two statuses self-employed and employed. In Employment Law, there are three statuses. There’s employee then what’s called limb (b) worker.

[Chris]: Yeah.

[Matthew]: Somebody gets nearly all of them for the rights, but not, for example, the right to an unfair dismissal. Then you’ve got the self-employed. I would only have two categories, and I would have the line that is the line that separates people from in tax terms is exactly the same line as employment terms because I think that would make things simpler as well.

Some of those who’ve been advocating for Uber drivers like the Independent Workers Union argue, and I think it’s unrealistic. They argued that it’s legally possible, and they’re right that it’s legally possible, by the way. But I still think it’s unrealistic as a kind of solution that, for example, Uber drivers should have worker rights, but carry on only having to pay self-employed taxes, and Uber would carry on only having to pay the tax that you have to pay for hiring someone. I don’t think that’s realistic.

[Chris]: No, I don’t think it is.

[Matthew]: Part of the reason I don’t think that’s realistic is because I’ve spoken to people in Treasury in HMRC, and they all worried. If you are a sole trader on average earnings, you pay 3000 pounds less into the public purse than if you are an employee on average earnings. So, that’s a big kind of fiscal gap, which everybody knows sooner or later, we have to address.

Now, the problem is because we have this acronystic kind of division between how much we tax people, and because of the confusion between tax status and employment regulation status, the government has to find other ways around this. So, that’s where I R35 comes in. IR35 is, in my view, a kind of blunt, but it is what is both the kind of, it’s weird. It’s like medieval torture. It is kind of blunt on the one hand but excruciating on the other.

[Chris]: Yeah.

[Matthew]: IR35 is an attempt to deal with this by putting onto the shoulders of the employers the responsibility for making absolutely sure that the person they’re hiring could not be portrayed on scene as being somebody you would normally, or conventionally have been somebody who’s an employee. Of course, many employers, this is on the side of–.

[Chris]: Well, they’re terrified of getting it wrong.

[Matthew]: They’re terrified of getting it wrong. So, they are saying, “Okay, we’ll bring this back in-house, or we’ll treat you as a worker.” Lots of self-employed people are now finding that they have to go onto the books, and I don’t think that’s a big problem. Let me be frank. I care about over, what? 99% of my concern when it comes to The Labour Market is about vulnerable people.

[Chris]: Yeah.

[Matthew]: I really don’t care that much about your kind of classic middle-class—

[Chris]: Architect.

[Matthew]: –IT. IT Consultant, Architect, who’s on good earnings and who is going through the self-employment root cause they want autonomy, and also because it means they’ll pay less tax. I mean, I’m really not, to be honest, that bothered. I’m not hostile to those people, some of my best friends, et cetera, but I don’t think that’s a public policy concern.

[Chris]: Okay. So, this is really driven, then do you think by those, let’s say, they were considered as key workers in the COVID pandemic and the whole crisis around this. These are people perhaps in retail that actually, they are generally low paid. These roles are not seen, or they weren’t seen before, as particularly important, or worthwhile. Were they?

[Matthew]: Yeah. I think the position is that the kind of pattern that you have of self-employment and employment status, it’s kind of historically contingent, and at the moment, gig platforms, in particular. We associate them with things like taxes, food careers.

Now, by the way, there is a big part of what is called the gig economy, which is non-problematic, and that’s the gig economy, which is really just the kind of the digital equivalent of little cards and newsagents windows, which is just ways for you to connect with someone who can do some painting and decorating or gardening or whatever. I think there’s a problem with that. That’s just a way of connecting genuine money-solving poor people to potential customers.

But when it comes to these larger platforms where they’re really telling people what to do and where all their workers are having to work in the same way. Well, that’s a different situation. Now, this has grown up in two areas. We particularly associate work with two areas. One is this is taxes where actually that whole model of self-employment has long existed. That was the way taxes and mini [inaudible 00:20:00] kind of work. Then with food careers, which is a new area. I mean, this was not a job, which really existed much 10 or 15 years ago, and it’s now grown up.

[Chris]: It’s critical.

[Matthew]: It’s been critical for me, of course. But there are, of course, dangers about this moving into different areas. So, I have heard, for example, I remember when I was doing my [inaudible 00:20:19] removals firm. He said that he was being completely outbid by the removals firm down the road who treated their removals staff as self-employed.

[Chris]: Yep.

[Matthew]: So, of course, they were able to charge less.

[Chris]: Considerably less.

[Matthew]: Considerably less. I have had entrepreneurs in my office. It shows you how stupid some people are, I’m afraid. But I’ve had entrepreneurs in my office saying, “Oh, look, Matthew, we’d love you to advise us or be on the board or whatever of our exciting new gig platform, which is going to be for retail.” So, what’s going to be is that retailers have realised that the footfall is particularly strong in the morning and lunchtime in the evening, and they don’t want people standing around not serving people. So, they’re going to have a gig platform so that you can bring someone in to work at the counter for an hour, and they could go and sit at the local cost of coffee, drinking their wages, and then they come in for an hour lunchtime, and they come in for an hour in the evening. Now, I, of course, send these people away with the fleet, saying, A this isn’t decent and ethical, and B it’s almost certainly not legal.”

[Chris]: No.

[Matthew]: But I’m telling you it doesn’t stop them. It doesn’t stop them developing these platforms. The problem is when you are in a highly competitive marketplace, like retail, and someone comes along and says, “Hey, look, you don’t have to pay much insurance. You don’t have to have these people standing around in the middle of morning when things aren’t quite so busy. Why don’t you move to a more casual way of working, or why don’t you even move to a gig platform working?”

It’s very, very tempting, particularly if the company down the road is doing it and you’re losing business to them. That’s why you need regulation. That’s why good businesses and not just good businesses, actually most businesspeople recognise that regulation is a good thing for them. Because what businesses understand is that they want to compete on the basis of investment, in entrepreneurship, innovation. They don’t want to compete on the basis of the capacity to arbitrage a broken system.

[Chris]: But why do successful administrations dodge all of this, and why does everything move at such a glacial pace, do you think?

[Matthew]: I don’t know. That’s a big question. Isn’t it? I mean, as to the specifics that we’re talking about now, I think it’s a kind of mixture of inertia and ideology. I think, on the one hand, you’ve got a government that is exhausted—COVID Brexit.

[Chris]: Yep.

[Matthew]: You’ve got a cabinet which doesn’t seem to have a great deal of kind of capacity of independent action. If you’re, I know because I used to work in Downing Street, Number 10, the treasury, the two big powerful departments cabinet office as well, to an extent, they’re not interested in everything. They haven’t got time to resolve everything. Now, good cabinet administers take this as an opportunity to work on the basis of, “I’m going to do something until I’m told not to. I’m going to take the grip of this. I’m going to take it forward, and if not, the ten or the treasury want to knock me down, well, they’ll have to do that, but I’m not going to sit around and not do anything.

Unfortunately, we seem to have a cabinet, which almost entirely comprises people who will not move unless instructed to buy Number 10, and Number 10 is clearly overworked. So, you’ve got a lot of inertia in the system. You’ve got people not willing to do anything unless they’re told to, and you’ve got a Number 10, which is overstretched and has a lot of other priorities.

But there’s also some ideology here, which is it’s clear to me that you’ve got a government that is torn because, on the one hand, there’s good work agenda. My Good Work Agenda is popular, and if anything, it has become more popular during COVID because we’ve seen the way that precarious workers have particularly suffered.

[Chris]: Yeah.

[Matthew]: You’re three times as likely to have suffered a significant decline in your income over the last 12 months if you’re a precarious work. So, on the one hand, this agenda is popular and feels urgent and important. On the other hand, you’re a conservative policy, and you’ve got the Telegraph, the spectator, the right-wing of your own party, who have these kinds of profound neoliberal, deregulatory tendencies. You need to keep throwing red meat to them. I think this combination of ideological ambivalence, inertia, and the kind of lack of any kind of independence in the cabinet that’s the mixture, which gives rise to this peculiar situation, where I’m having conversations twice a week now with people like you. They’re saying to me, “What’s happening,” and I’m kind of going, “Well, I don’t really know.”

[Chris]: That’s very depressing. Isn’t it?

[Matthew]: Not as depressing as [inaudible 00:24:47] form, to be honest, personally, but yeah, no, it’s annoying. It’s not yet. It would be depressing if I knew this agenda was over. At the moment, it’s annoying. It’s frustrating, but I’m not giving up.

[Chris]: Yeah. Okay.

[Matthew]: I’m invited all the time to condemn the government. I’m not interested in condemning the government. Being in government is difficult. It’s not easy. Cock-up is more common than conspiracy. I’m still willing to give the government the benefit of the doubt, but in the end, anybody’s patience runs out.

[Chris]: Well, it’s the only one we have. Yeah. No, that’s true, but I mean, obviously the Chancellor he’s raising corporation tax in order to help, obviously pay the COVID bill. This is quite an extraordinary move, isn’t it, by a Tory Chancellor? Perhaps what’s even more extraordinary is the opposition from the labour front bench. It’s topsy-turvy, isn’t it?

[Matthew]: Well, it is. I mean, we’re moving a bit away from the issue of employment protection. Yeah. I mean, look—

[Chris]: But in a way, though, if we’re talking about the best place in which to work, the best place, in which to set up a company, the best place in which to employ people, it’s all a bit ran the wrong way, isn’t it?

[Matthew]: I mean, I don’t think that the—I mean, I think what’s remarkable is that if you’re a conservative, you are blessed, and you are blessed by the fact that on the one hand, you’ve had to deal with the labour policy that’s been at sea really one way or another for a decade. On the other hand, you seem to have a public that doesn’t really hold you as a conservative party responsible for the fact that you, as a conservative party, are now reversing, condemning, ignoring things, which you as a conservative party did five years ago.

So, being a conservative in modern England, I say England, not Britain, advisedly. Being a conservative in modern England means never having to say, “Sorry.” That seems to be the simple reality of it. So, I don’t think the George Osborne was right to cut corporation tax in the way that he did. I think it cuts away at an important source of revenue. There’s not much evidence from around the world that these corporation tax reductions pay for themselves, and this is a time of austerity.

So, I think that raising corporation tax is a reasonable thing to do. I think, globally, we should be raising more tax from corporations, and I think the government should be part of a stronger global effort, OACD, some really good work on this report to be implemented to deal with the way in which corporations are arbitraging their kind of International Tax Bill. So, I’m kind of fine with all of it.

[Chris]: So, this is where you [inaudible 00:27:31].

[Matthew]: I think my disappointment with budget was that in the end, this seemed to be the treasury abandoning long-term challenging change in preference for short-term fiscal stick waving. Basically, you get these two massive measures. The one is the tax break for investment. The second is the corporation tax hike, and that’s fine, but that speaks to me of quite a reductive world where people just do things because of financial incentives. What the government did at the same time was abolish industrial strategy. I was on the government’s industrial strategy council, which did some really, really good work, but it was abolished overnight. The Chancellor, when he unveiled the self-employment support scheme last year, said when he unveiled it, “We need to look again at the way we tax self-employed labour.” Not a word about that. That has disappeared.

So, my view of the budget is that this is a kind of Sam Allardyce budget. It’s route one, Lovett down the middle set-piece kind of project. It isn’t a Pep Guardiola, “Let’s recognise that we’re dealing with that an economic system here. One that’s complex, that needs multiple interventions, that needs a kind of long-term plan to change the way we play economically.” This is the “Let’s buy the six-foot-six center forward, and a couple of experience centre-backs deal with set pieces, and we’ll get through it.” Look, Sam Allardyce has been a pretty successful manager apart from now, West Bromwich, so, maybe that’s right. That is certainly the English way of doing things.

Well, I guess, for me, as a kind of policy purist who likes it, where I feel government is tangling with complex, difficult, long-term challenges. I’m constantly disappointed at what I see as being a rather reductionist approach.

[Chris]: Okay. My last question, I guess, is all the debates surrounded where people work today. So, the flexibility, the hybrid model, you’ve got Goldman Sachs, saying, “Everyone’s coming back to the office,” and you’ve got other employers saying, “Well, it doesn’t really matter. We’re going to sort of muddle through, and it’s going to be a hybrid.” Do you think we stand somewhere sort of creating a danger of underclass of people that actually can’t work from home? For example, those that work in nursing, or in care, or in a supermarket, they don’t have the opportunity of sitting in their kitchen in the nice middle-class life and producing emails. Do you think there’s a danger of that a little bit?

[Matthew]: I don’t think there’s a danger of creating an underclass because different jobs require different things. I think the problem is when—

[Chris]: But Matthew, he wants to do that job, but they can’t get the flexibility. If that’s so important to us, who’s going to want to go into nursing?

[Matthew]: Well, look, different people want to do different jobs.

[Chris]: Yeah.

[Matthew]: It is in the nature of things that I have really enjoyed my job, but many people would find the idea of running an organisation or doing public speaking terrifying. They wouldn’t want to do it. They wouldn’t want the hassle of it. So, different people do different jobs, and that’s absolutely fine, and sometimes I don’t know. Take being a police officer, for example. Being a police officer is a job, which contains elements, which are deeply disturbing and upsetting and difficult, but also presumably elements of it which are exciting and fulfilling and give you an incredibly powerful sense of doing something for the public. That’s, I’m sure, the same with nursing and being a doctor, et cetera.

So, I think there’s not a problem with the fact that jobs are different, and they demand different things of you. The problem is, on the one hand, when we don’t truly reflect the value of jobs, in the way in which we remunerate them, and there, I agree with David Goodheart. I don’t always agree with David Goodheart, but he wrote a book recently called “Head, Hand, Heart,” and I agree with him in that book. One of the problems of our society and our culture is that overwhelmingly the rewards for jobs go to head jobs. Jobs that involve thinking skills, conceptual skills, analytical skills, management consultants, and people like that. We don’t, generally speaking, reward as well, either in terms of status on remuneration manual work or caring work, heart work. Right?

So, the first thing is, it’s only creating underclass if we systematically undervalue certain roles and functions. I think that’s one of the debates that came up during COVID because, during COVID, we desperately relied on the person delivering our food from Waitrose. Corporate lawyers were of less interest to us in our day-to-day life.

[Chris]: Totally. Yeah.

[Matthew]: Then the second part of it is when there are types of work, which are, and this brings us right round to the beginning, very neatly as we end, where practises of flexible work, which is one-sided where the risk transfer is all onto the shoulders of the work, become the predominant model. We’ve seen that. Social care is a good example of that.

The problem in social care is not just that it’s underpaid and undervalued. It’s also that an enormous number of social care workers are in zero-hours work. Some of them are in bogus self-employment work. So, not only are they underpaid and under-rewarded, but they’re also forced to work in ways, which means that all the risks lie on their shoulders.

[Chris]: Exactly. Exactly.

[Matthew]: That’s something that I don’t think people want to see.

[Chris]: Yeah, and these cases where they’re not paid between one visit and the next visit is appalling, isn’t it?

[Matthew]: Yeah, and the law is, I think, pretty clear on that, and it’s important that we enforce the law, that if you are going between appointments and you’re required to be at both of those appointments, and you have to travel between them, then that should be viewed as working time. But these judgements come off from through the employment tribunal systems, which, as I said to you before, the problem is that means that you adjudicate on that case. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it lays down a set of principles, which you can apply in every case. Although, I do think that the minimum wage rules are pretty clear on things like uniforms and on work between assignments.

[Chris]: Yeah.

[Matthew]: It’s just that, often the law, often people try to find ways of circumventing the rules.

[Chris]: Okay. Matthew, thank you very much. What’s next for you? What are you going to do next? You’ve got lots of plans.

[Matthew]: I don’t know, really. I’m available for reasonable rates. Parties.

[Chris]: How do people get a hold of you if they want to get hold of you?

[Matthew]: Weddings, and no. I’m at the RSA.

[Chris]: Right.

[Matthew]: I’m weighing up my options.

[Chris]: Okay.

[Matthew]: Well, great to talk.

[Chris]: Good luck.

Share this podcast

Share on twitter
Share on linkedin

Recent episodes

Episode 13
Season 3

What Makes A Great HR Podcast?


Jon Thurmond & Wendy Dailey

Listen to find out what makes a great HR podcast!
Episode 12
Season 3

Transforming Your HR Practices


Lars Schmidt

There has never been a better time to be the field of HR!
Episode 11
Season 3

Flying High – How HR Took The Initiative With Employee Engagement


Lawrence Hughes & Dr Fiona Jamison

I read somewhere once that to make a small fortune, start with a large fortune and buy an airline.

Be the first to get the latest episode of my podcast