Baroness Greengross (CB)
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, for introducing this important Private Member’s Bill, which seeks to clarify in law the definition of “worker” and “employee” in the Employment Rights Act 1996 and the labour relations Act 1992. The world of work has changed considerably since these two pieces of legislation were passed in the 1990s and is set to change even more radically in the coming years.
We know that, under the current legal definitions, someone deemed to be a “worker” is not entitled to the same level of employment rights as an “employee”. Specifically, entitlements such as sick pay, maternity and paternity leave, and protection against unfair dismissal, among other things, are not legally enforceable for those defined as workers. Throughout my working life I have worked as an advocate for the rights of older people, yet much of my volunteering work has been trying to help young people. These two groups are often the most vulnerable in employment, both being overrepresented in unemployment or precarious work statistics. Updating these legal definitions will give both these groups greater legal protection in employment.
Although I support the Bill in principle, it also needs to be understood by the trade unions and others that we cannot turn back the clock, as the world of work is changing fast. One positive of technology has been the ability for greater flexibility in work, something that often suits employers and employees. Often this flexibility comes with trade-offs where the frameworks used in the past are no longer appropriate, such as inflexible rostering systems. An example of this is Uber drivers, who haveexpand-col3 flexibility to decide when to work—something that suits the drivers and the company. Trying to impose older models of employment practice on this model will not work. Instead, we need to seek new ways to ensure that these workers still have some income protection if they cannot work due to sickness.
Another definition that is not addressed in the Bill, but in my view is also out of date, is “pensioner”. While the Equality Act banned discrimination against older workers in 2010, people over the state pension age are defined as “pensioners” and are all too often not treated equally to other workers. With 1.28 million people over 65 still working in the UK, categorising people in this group as “pensioners” is both outdated and wrong. They should be called “older workers” and treated as workers.
Technology change, longevity and changes in attitudes have seen a radical shift in how people work—something which has increased considerably during the pandemic. Until the Summer Recess, the House of Lords showed leadership in this new way of working through hybrid proceedings, although sadly we have reverted to the old way of working for now. The way people work is changing fast, and we must adapt to this. Updating the legal definitions used in employment legislation is an important part of adapting to this inevitable change.