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The Man Running The Government's Employment Review Says His Think Tank Uses Zero-Hours Contracts

Matthew Taylor, CEO of the Royal Society of Arts, is leading a government review of modern employment that will consider the issue of insecure work.

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Sara Spary / BuzzFeed

The man tasked with leading a government review of modern employment has said his think tank hires casual staff on zero-hours contracts.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts and a former advisor to the ex-Labour leader Tony Blair, said that "lots" of zero-hours work was "perfectly legitimate," and that his organisation used zero-hours contracts.

"We have zero-hours workers at the RSA, because we have weddings where [we are] located, and we couldn't give them a regular job because we only have one every two weeks," he told BuzzFeed News.

Taylor, who is leading a review for prime minister Theresa May into whether "employment regulation and practices are keeping pace with the changing world of work”, was speaking after delivering a speech at a Trades Union Congress event on insecure work.

Taylor's report, which is expected to be published within weeks, follows growing concerns about insecure work, and a series of media exposes into employment practices at companies including Deliveroo, Uber, Asos, Hermes, Sports Direct, and the white-goods retailer AO World.

Taylor told BuzzFeed News he had concluded there were two main types of flexible work.

One, he said, is legitimate because it benefits both businesses and workers who wish to work on such contracts. The other, he said, benefits businesses to the detriment of workers – who take on all the risk in the relationship because they are not guaranteed hours, sick pay, holiday pay, pension contributions, or protection against unfair dismissal.

He said "one-way flexibility" was a practice of employers who, "if they wanted to", could guarantee hours by taking on an element of risk, but choose "instead to provide zero-hours contracts, or very low-hours contracts."

This, Taylor said, "shifts all the burden of risk on to the individual" worker, leaving them unable to know "how much money they're going to get from week to week", and feeling "intimidated about ways to express concerns or question what's going on in the workplace."

"I feel we need to try to discourage that attempt to shift all the risk onto the workers and leave workers in a position where they feel very vulnerable," he said.

That type of "one-way flexibility", Taylor said, was most common in "low-paid, low-skilled sectors."

"I mean, if you're a middle-aged IT consultant who's charging £70 an hour, then the fact you don't know when you're going to work doesn't bother you because you're earning a lot of money and it's quite enjoyable," he told BuzzFeed News.

"It feels very, very different if you're in a place where you're on the minimum wage and there's just one employer. Those are the people I'm interested in."

Taylor will deliver his report to the government within weeks. It is expected to recommend ways to ensure that insecure work – such as gig economy, agency, and zero-hours jobs – are good for workers as well as businesses.

He would not reveal the findings of the report, but told the Financial Times in April that one thing under consideration was encouraging businesses to pay a premium rate for zero-hours work, aimed at discouraging “lazy employers” from pushing risk on to workers.

He told The Guardian, meanwhile, that he was considering placing the onus on companies to prove their workers are genuinely self-employed, and making it mandatory for companies to publicly report how many temps they use.

It is not clear what considerations will form the final recommendations. During his speech to the TUC, Taylor pointed out he had revealed some ideas to media publications only to later decide the ideas were "stupid".

During his research, Taylor told BuzzFeed News, he found that more than two-thirds of people working in gig economy jobs highly valued the flexibility and were happy. It was important to preserve that, he said.

"One of the difficulties is that two people doing the same job will describe that job in entirely different ways. One will say 'it's great, it's flexible, I love it,' and the other will say it's insecure.

"We've looked really hard at ways we can ensure people can get the protections they deserve without changing the fact that people like being able to work whenever they want to work," Taylor added.

Contact Sara Spary at

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