Opinion Former Article

Zero hours workers may not benefit in full from ‘Taylor premium’

The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group (LITRG) has highlighted that some people on zero hours contracts will not see the full benefit of any premium added to the National Minimum Wage. This is because of knock on deductions in their entitlement to welfare benefits. LITRG is also concerned about how employers would react to such a premium, and has set out its own recommendations on how the Government could better support these vulnerable workers.

The doubts and concerns were raised as part of LITRG’s response to a consultation by the Low Pay Commission looking at the Taylor Review’s proposal to introduce a premium rate of pay for hours which are not guaranteed – the ‘Taylor premium’. Review author Matthew Taylor believes that this premium will lead to such workers getting more guaranteed hours and, where it does not, that it will mean they get a bit more income to compensate them for the risk and insecurity.

LITRG Chair Anne Fairpo said:

“While this seems on the face of it a good idea for low income workers, we actually have some doubts as to whether the ‘Taylor premium’ will help tackle the issue of ‘one sided flexibility’ and workers experiencing uncertain and unpredictable work schedules.

“In particular we are concerned at the ways in which a ‘Taylor premium’ could interact with the workers’ tax, National Insurance position, related tax credits and welfare entitlements. Some workers will not feel anything like the full benefit of the premium. In addition, there are potentially serious financial consequences for those who might currently qualify for ‘passported’ benefits such as free school meals.’’

In its submission, LITRG illustrates how in some cases the ‘Taylor premium’ will benefit the Exchequer more than the workers. LITRG also points out that this measure does not seem to do much for those who are already paid at slightly more than the minimum wage. If the premium is 15 per cent – then someone on the £7.83 rate will have their hourly rate lifted to £9. However, if they are already on £9, it seems their pay will stay at £9.

Anne Fairpo said:

“We think it is too simplistic to say that employers could just move workers to set hours contracts if they do not want to pay the premium – many need the flexibility of non-guaranteed hours to manage the peaks and troughs of their business. It also does not follow that they will simply absorb the cost of the ’Taylor premium’ themselves.

“We are concerned that certain employers facing higher labour costs might decide to turn to other options to protect their profitability, such as the cutting of hours, with potential knock on consequences on working tax credit claims and any other provisions that are based on number of hours worked.

“We have particular questions over what will happen in the care sector, as it is not clear to us where the money will come from to fund the premium. In the agency worker sector, our overriding feeling is that we will see an increased use of exploitative models based on self-employment, which will leave the low-income worker in a potentially worse situation than they are currently.”

LITRG says that despite its concerns about the impact of the ‘Taylor premium’, it is nevertheless concerned about those on zero-hours contracts and, in particular, unfair practices such as having shifts cancelled at the last minute. LITRG highlights that there are some measures that the Government could also take within the current framework to help these workers better understand and manage their positions, which include:

• Vastly improving the provision of information about rights and protections for workers - there is still a dire need for basic information about what low-income workers on such contracts should expect in relation to holiday pay, etc.

• Tackling blacklisting (the practice of not being offered any more work if they turn down work or raise a grievance).

• Undertaking an assessment of challenges in tax credits and universal credit faced by low-paid care workers with volatile income or hours – with a view to easing the burdens that are currently placed on them by those systems.

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