The current COVID19 crisis has shone a light on the world of work by interrupting the supply and demand necessary for global capitalism to function. In the UK context, it has drawn attention to the inadequacies of our current employment rights framework; the ways in which certain types of work is insecure and de-valued; the racialised, gendered and classed boundaries of some ‘front-line’ jobs; the vast power disparities between employers and employees; and called into question the necessity of office work, or indeed a 5 day working week.
Perhaps then this period of reflection might open up new perspectives and ideas amongst the public which could radically transform the future world of work, pushing forwards positive change which forefronts worker protection, adequate remuneration, recognition, work-life balance and interests outside of traditional ‘work’ under industrial capitalism. Below, I outline some of the areas in which these changes should take place. (more…)
Don Lane was a DPD courier, whose written contract described him as an ‘independent contractor’, aiming to ensure that he was neither an ‘employee’ nor a ‘worker’ and therefore was not entitled to the legal rights such as protection against dismissal, the national living wage, paid holidays, or even statutory sick pay. He suffered from diabetes and, having already been fined £150 for attending a hospital appointment earlier in the year, died in January 2018 after working through the Christmas season despite illness. His employers knew that he had suffered from a diabetic collapse at work but adopted a system which strongly discouraged him taking any time off for sickness: no income for sick leave and, worst of all, fines. The media has documented other examples of the abusive treatment of ‘gig’ workers in courier companies such as Hermes and Amazon.
While the Government says it is contemplating ‘the single largest shift in employment status since the Employment Rights Act in 1996’, its focus is on clarifying rather than extending its ambit. The reason seems to lie in its endorsement of the ‘flexibility’ of the current UK labour market, following Taylor’s lead, enabling individuals and employers ‘to make the choices that are right for them’. The notion that such choices are structurally constrained is ignored; rather the blame is laid at the door of the exceptional ‘bad’ employer. While some improvements are contemplated, they do not broaden the scope of access to statutory rights at work in a way that would have helped Don Lane or will prevent other forms of abuse. (more…)
The office Christmas party is something many of us will have enjoyed recently. In the words of Judge Cotter QC in the recent High Court decision in Bellman v Northampton Recruitment Ltd  EWHC 3104 (QB), it is an occasion “no doubted dreaded by some and an annual highlight for others” (para 14). Needless to say, in most cases, alcohol will be freely flowing and sadly things may be said or done regretted bitterly the next day.
In the case of the Northampton Recruitment Ltd 2011 Christmas party, it was not the party itself (held at the Collingtree Golf Club) which proved eventful, but the “after party” held in the lobby of the Collingtree Hilton Hotel in the course of which the managing director of the company, John Major, punched an employee (Clive Bellman) twice during the course of a disagreement at 3am. Mr Bellman’s head hit the marble floor, leading to brain damage. By the time of the trial, his condition was such that he was not able to litigate or manage his affairs and brought his claim as a protected party. To add to the tragedy, the parties in question had been friends since childhood. The assault, no doubt fuelled by alcohol, had been provoked by a work-related dispute, although discussions at the Hilton Bar had covered a variety of matters. The question for the court was whether the company would be held vicariously liable for the tort of its managing director. (more…)