Firms could be forced to compensate staff on flexible contracts for short-notice shift cancellations, under proposals outlined in a new government report. 
Issued on 19 July, The Good Work Plan: Consultation on Measures to Address One-sided Flexibility follows on from the 2017 Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices, which examined the staffing implications of new forms of work and the impact of new working methods on worker rights, responsibilities, freedoms and obligations.
The consultation notes: “Flexibility has been a key part of enabling business to respond to changing market conditions and has supported record employment rates. Individuals have the opportunity to work in a range of different ways, on hours that fit around other responsibilities … However, one of the issues raised through the Taylor review was that a minority of employers abuse this flexibility to transfer excessive amounts of risk to workers, and there is no corresponding benefit to the worker from the flexible arrangement.
“This has been termed as ‘one-sided flexibility’, with examples of employers cancelling shifts at short notice, or sending workers home when customer demand is low.” 
In light of the Taylor Review, the government commissioned the independent Low Pay Commission (LPC) to provide advice on the prevalence of one-sided flexibility, the scope for introducing a higher minimum wage to offset non-guaranteed hours and any relevant policy ideas. The LPC cited three, key problems that workers in today’s climate are facing:
- unpredictability of hours;
- insecurity of income, and
- an inability to assert rights.
With those issues in mind, it recommends that employees should have:
- a right to switch to a contract that reflects normal hours worked;
- a right to reasonable notice of work schedule;
- compensation for shift cancellation or curtailment without reasonable notice, and
- guidelines and information that will inform their expectations.
LPC chair Bryan Sanderson said: “We are delighted to see the government taking forward our recommendation to consult on these measures. The proposed changes … have the potential to improve work and life for hundreds of thousands of people.”
Are the Good Work Plan’s proposals sound and workable?
The Institute of Leadership & Management head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “If flexible working is to be considered successful, it has to work for both parties. It cannot just be, as Matthew Taylor described it, ‘one-sided flexibility’, which is essentially a means of driving down labour costs. It is neither fair nor reasonable to expect people to have that level of flexibility when it’s all give from the worker’s point of view and all take from the employer’s.”
Cooper notes: “If you look at Taylor’s recommendations, what they proposed amounts to a contract of employment – something for which trade unions have campaigned for years: this idea that there is a formalised deal to provide your employer with a certain number of service hours per week, in exchange for a salary and other sorts of benefits. Arrangements such as zero-hours contracts – or classing people as self-employed when, in fact, they’re not – only ever work if the arrangement suits both sides of the bargain.”
She adds: “This consultation is hugely encouraging and deserves support from stakeholders in the future of work. Companies that do well on employee engagement are not those that cling to methods and practices associated with one-sided flexibility.”
For further insights on the themes raised in this blog, check out the Institute’s resources on understanding HR