The Taylor Review may not have pleased everyone but if has certainly moved conversations about the modern work in some potentially very fruitful directions. While there are clearly essential decisions for government to make about statutory rights, from our perspective the Review is at its best where it identifies what workers can do for themselves, often through modern forms of co-operation and organising.
Some of the Review’s recommendations are very specific and intended to be implemented by government as soon as time allows, while others set out a destination for policy without prescribing how to get there. Perhaps it is inevitable that co-ops have more to do with the latter, not least because by their very nature co-operative approaches to work and life are things we can do ourselves, provided we have the tools and opportunities.
The self-organising self-employed
If all this talk of worker co-operation seems a bit out there for the Taylor Review, remember that Matthew Taylor’s own RSA and the Federation of Small Business are both taking it very seriously these days, as their excellent new report shows. And it’s in the Taylor Review too, if you know where to look.
Technology is at heart of many of the Review’s proposals: making employment relations more transparent, giving workers more information and helping them make better-informed choices. All of this will be needed in the flexible, fast changing labour market being envisaged. But what is also vital, and is thankfully picked up in the Review, is the need for more of this technology to be at the service of workers, in their hands.
The Review is markedly enthusiastic about the potential of something it calls ‘WorkerTech’ to help people pool risk and resources and to organise. It all starts to sound very much like Co-operation in the Age of Google, exploratory work conducted for Co-operatives UK by the forward-thinking economist Robin Murray – and we like it. This brings us to possibly the most exciting recommendation from our perspective:
“Government should work with partners to create a Catalyst to stimulate the development of a range of WorkerTech models and platforms in the UK. This would allow new and emerging solutions to develop and grow, in a “sandbox environment” with a view to better supporting self-employed people.”
Put simply, we’d love to see this happen and are eager to work with our members to champion this particular recommendation in particular.
Another very encouraging recommendation recognises that in amongst all the existing government interventions intended to help people transition to self-employment, more can be done to develop advice and support that gives them the greatest chance of succeeding. We made just this point in our submission to the Review, calling for a programme to help workers considering self-employment understand their co-op options and support them to adopt co-op approaches where they see an advantage in doing so. We’ll definitely be calling on government to pick up this recommendation too.
The Review stresses the need for the self-employed to provide for periods of ill health and to plan retirement but stops short of mentioning many of the ways they can do that better by working together - something set out in detail in our report last year, Not Alone. The example of a non-profit ‘portable benefits’ service in New York is great, but it doesn’t explain to Government how things like this could come about through the collective agency of workers, as with Breadfunds.
The Review also misses a trick by failing to recognise how flexible working can be a very good thing, depending on how much agency and ownership workers really have. For example, an increasing number of people in tech sector prefer to collaborate and partner in networks, retaining freedom and flexibility but also building solidarity and working in teams. The Review is weaker for failing to understand the key organisational tools for doing this, such as co-ops. Given the important contribution this type of work could make to boosting productivity, opportunity and wellbeing in a priority sector for the emergent Industrial Strategy, this is particularly disappointing.
The Review also tells the government that the best way to achieve better work is responsible corporate governance, good management and strong employment relations and says people are most likely to enjoy what they do when they have a meaningful say at work. Worker co-ops anyone?
True, it is possible for a business to care about its employees, reward them fairly, invest in them and give them a voice without sharing ownership. But it’s also true co-operative ownership aligns profit, power and worker benefit in a business more seamlessly. We should not lose track of the massive boost to decent work to be gained from expanding worker ownership and control in the economy. Unfortunately worker ownership gets not a single mention.
Our next steps
- Add our voice to calls to create a Catalyst to stimulate the development of a range of WorkerTech models and platforms in the UK
- Support the recommendation to develop advice and support for the self-employed, and for it to include practical help to understand and adopt co-op options
- Restate the case that worker ownership is the best way to align profit, power and worker benefit in a business
- Ensure co-ops are well represented in the coalitions forming around all these agendas
“We welcome the report as another piece of research into the future of work, though feel it may have benefitted from specifying existing approaches that could provide answers to the issues, particular worker co-ops.
"Worker co-ops are well understood here in the UK and internationally as a proven way to for workers to protect their own rights and to strengthen health and wellbeing through a more engaged workplace. They also offer many individuals faced with increasingly precarious work a good balance between flexibility and control."
Simon Parkinson, The Co-operative College