The Conservative Party Manifesto opens with a bold premise on introducing new rules for a changing economy, that they believe if we value something, we must reform it to conserve it. Further down the page, the manifesto promises further protections for those in the ‘gig’ economy, where they are legally self -employed, but the reality is quite different. This is, in all likelihood, down to the Employment Appeals Tribunal Decision in the Uber BV case, the Court of Appeal ruling in Pimlico Plumbers (yes, that one) and the highest of the mighty, Autoclenz v Belcher. There’s also a plan to introduce a year off for workers needing to care for families. As far as workers’ rights go, so far so good, right?
No. Wrong. I’ll explain why.
Firstly, the increased protection for ‘gig’ workers, although the courts have already made great strides in determining some of these working arrangements as clear shams, we need more, and as far as policies go, this is one I welcome. However, it’s about as useful as a Philip Davies MP, our favourite little misogynist. You see, while increased rights for gig workers are useful in theory, in the modern practicalities of our court system render them pointless to have. Take an example, if the Conservatives guarantee a minimum wage for these workers, the hours won’t be guaranteed, as the work given will only match demand. For argument sake, let’s say Jane works 20 hours a week on average for a delivery service who once classified her unfairly as self-employed, but thanks to the new rights the Conservatives have codified, she’ll get the living wage of £7.50 per hour. She’ll make £150 a week, not great, but better than what she had been making. Jane pays her rent, her bills, and her other outgoings, and is left with very little of that paycheque. Say her employer then infringes her brand new rights and refuse her holiday pay, in such a clear cut way that bringing a claim is a slam dunk. Jane planned to take two weeks holiday, where she would be entitled to £300 in holiday pay. She goes to a lawyer and discovers that bringing a claim to an Employment Tribunal to enforce these rights will cost her £160 to lodge a claim, then a further £230 to pursue the hearing before a tribunal. That’s £390 off the bat. Then add to that the lawyer’s fees. Let’s say she’s a generous lawyer and agrees to charge her £20 an hour for her case. After the preparation work, the trial itself, and all the little ancillary stuff, this can add up to dozens of hours. Let us say, in this case, there’s 20 hours of work all in. That’s £400 pounds. Will she get legal aid for the claim? Don’t make me laugh, criminal defendants struggle to get legal aid these days, a serious national scandal, but one I’ll avoid. Her total costs amount to £790 pounds against a claim value of £300, and the Tribunals don’t always award costs for the victor, so even if she wins, she could be £490 out of pocket. That’s more than 3 weeks wages, and in all reality, when she only makes £600 per month, and deals with her outgoings, how can she afford it? Why on earth would she bother to bring her claim, even though she would be very likely to win? The dirty secret is most won’t. Most won’t. In fact, since the fees for Employment Tribunals were introduced by the Conservatives, the number of claims has fallen 70%. I can tell you from personal experience working in a pro bono law clinic, even when we think victory is dead certain, most will not pursue because they cannot afford the fees. These promises on increased rights are welcome in principle, but they are useless and unenforceable in law, so don’t buy this Conservative “compassion” for even a second.
Secondly, the Conservative Manifesto pledges a year off work for those seeking to care for those needing it. Super, right? Again, wrong-o. The year is unpaid. Yes, completely unpaid. What good is it caring for a family member who needs it when you can’t afford to keep the heating on, or the lights on, or buy food and necessities? It’s no good, that’s what. The Conservatives are no good, that’s what.
If you are a worker, and employee, anyone who takes heart in these new measures, don’t. They are useless, they are unenforceable, and they are typical of the faux concern of the Conservative Party. If you want workers rights, don’t vote Conservative. If you want a fairer society, do not vote Conservative. If you have a shred of compassion, of humanity, do not vote Conservative.
To those reading this, and calling it nonsense, research it for yourself. Ask a lawyer, an academic, they will tell you the same thing. Read the twitter and blog of the Secret Barrister (@BarristerSecret), who will do this infinitely more justice than I have. Just please, do your research. The Conservative Party are not the party of the workers, they never have been, and they never will be, and to those falling for their same old tricks, my heart only goes out to you, because they are lying to you.
LLB Student and Law Clinic Operations Manager.