U.K.: Employment Benefit Expansion Considered

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By Rick Vollmar 

Oct. 9—Business Secretary Vince Cable has launched a review of the classification of British wage earners to address the significant difference in the benefits currently available to those classified as “employees” versus those classified as “workers,” the latter generally those who work under so-called “zero-hours” contracts that require staff to be available as needed but do not guarantee any minimum number of work hours and so any minimum compensation.

According to an Oct. 6 release from the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, “in many instances workers are not aware of their employment status and therefore what employment rights they are entitled to. Many employers are also unsure what rights their workforce is entitled to, running the risk of legal challenge if they get something wrong.”

Everyone working in the U.K. is entitled to the minimum wage, annual leave and rest breaks and is protected by antidiscrimination laws. In addition to this, employees (but not “workers”) are entitled to maternity leave, protection against unfair dismissal and the right to request flexible working arrangements, among other benefits.

‘Security and Rights'

The BIS study will focus on clarifying the currently very complex worker-classification rules and determining the feasibility of expanding the number of workers eligible for comprehensive employment benefits.

“Now the economy is firmly on the road to recovery, it is important that the fruits of the recovery are shared by all,” Cable said in the BIS release. “Some types of contracts which offer employment rights, and which were never designed to be widely used, have become much more commonplace. As the economy recovers, it is right to explore giving a silent minority of workers the security and rights enjoyed by the majority of employees.”

BIS officials hope to have findings available by year's end and to submit recommendations to ministers by March 2015.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rick Vollmar at rvollmar@bna.com

The BIS release is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/news/employment-review-launched-to-improve-clarity-and-status-of-british-workforce/.

For more information on HR law and regulation, see the U.K. primer.