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Mother Suffered Discrimination after Part-Time Return From Maternity Leave

Many mothers resume work on a part-time basis after having children and employers must be very cautious to ensure that they are not subjected to any unfair detriment. In one case, a woman won the right to substantial compensation after her return to the office was blighted by less favourable treatment.

On returning from maternity leave, the software engineer had been made redundant after her manager reneged on an agreement that she would be permitted to leave at 5:00pm each day to pick up her child from nursery. A new role within the company that she could have applied for as an alternative to redundancy was subject to a requirement that she remain at work after 5:00pm.

After she launched proceedings, an Employment Tribunal (ET) found that she had suffered indirect sex discrimination, harassment and less favourable treatment as a part-time worker. Although the redundancy process was not a sham, the ET also ruled that her dismissal was unfair, having been tainted by discrimination.

In rejecting the company’s appeal against those findings, the Employment Appeal Tribunal could detect no flaw in the ET’s approach. The company’s challenge to a finding of direct sex discrimination – which related to an inappropriate comment allegedly made by a manager on hearing of the woman’s pregnancy – was, however, upheld. The reasoning in support of that finding was deficient and the issue was sent back to the same ET for reconsideration.

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Use of Zero Hours Contracts May Fall After Recent Rise

According to figures released by the Office for National Statistics, the total volume of UK workers employed via zero hours contracts has climbed to a new height of 910,000 during 2016. This is a 14% increase over the figures recorded for 2015, with 105,000 additional workers employed this way. This rise is even more surprising given how just 100,000 UK workers were employed via zero-hours in 2005

Zero-hours contracts are often criticised by employment law experts, who believe they reduce worker rights by not guaranteeing regular work shifts and denying workers the same rights as their fully-employed colleagues.

The increase of workers on zero-hour contracts peaked during the first six months of 2016 before slowing down considerably to 0.8% during the second half of the year.

This sudden change from high to low could be the result of a negative reaction by employers against hiring foreign workers in the aftermath of Brexit, which has made it much harder for EU workers to find UK employment. Another potential reason for the drop might be that employers have seen how zero-hours contracts have come under fire at tribunal in recent months.

Sports Direct was widely criticised after tribunal ruled in favour of a worker who claimed its zero-hours arrangements were unlawful. There has also been a rise in tribunals targeting gig economy businesses, such as Deliveroo and Uber, who have lost high profile cases involving employment rights. Many gig economy businesses plan to appeal their rulings, but a successful review looks uncertain after UK plumbing firm Pimlico Plumbers lost its appeal at tribunal in January 2017.

Many popular British businesses have now changed their contracts. Homebase has ceased its reliance on zero-hours employment and JD Wetherspoon has announced that workers on zero-hours contracts can now extend their employment to full employment if they want.

The Resolution Foundation’s policy analyst, Conor D’Arcy, believes this latter cause to be the contributing factor:
‘The negative publicity these contracts have attracted may well have played a role in their slowdown, as firms rethink their use’.

The financial crisis of 2008 was largely responsible for the rise in zero-hours contract usage, as dire employment prospects made workers desperate for work and therefore likely to sign contracts they would have otherwise rejected. Use of these contracts did not diminished even after the UK economy began to recover, as many employers continued using them despite the potential problems they cause workers.

Unite, the UK’s largest Trade Union, is encouraging the government to outlaw the use of zero-hours contrasts. New Zealand has already enforced this.

Len McCluskey, the general Secretary of Unite, the UK’s largest Trade Union, has stated:
‘There are now close to one million people in the UK on zero-hours contracts. That’s one million people with no job security, who are earning less than people in stable work and who, from week to week, do not know what they will have to live on’.

The government recognises the difficulties such contracts present to workers. Last year Theresa May instructed Matthew Taylor, a former policy member of the Blair administration, to undertake a review into how workers’ rights have been compromised by recent employment law, with zero-hours contracts as a key part of the investigation.

Despite the large amount of criticism brought down on zero-hours legislation, some workers actually value this form of employment. Workers within the age bracket 55-64 make up nearly half of the recent zero-hour increase, largely because many older workers are closer to retirement age and purposefully seek less working hours.

The Resolution Foundation acknowledges that there are some workers who feel they benefit from zero-hours contracts, an that a compromise is required so no-one’s rights are challenged. Conor D’Arcy believes the following:

‘For some of these workers, zero-hours contracts may offer a flexible transition from full-time work to retirement, allowing them to top up their income […] The challenge now is to ensure that these still-popular contracts are reserved for cases of genuine desired flexibility for worker and employer.’

Are you employed on a zero-hours contract? Let us know how you feel about using them in the UK workplace.

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Courier Business Criticised For Charging Workers Over Absence

Further shocking revelations regarding the employment methods of Britain’s gig economy, has shown that self-employed UK couriers who deliver goods on behalf of the firm DPD are being made to pay a fee of £150 for each working day they miss due to illness.

DPD is a renowned company that counts many of Britain’s most popular retailers among its clients, including Amazon, ASOS, Marks & Spencer, John Lewis and River Island.

Workers of the firm are speaking out over an unfair system that forces them to work even when they are sick, unless DPD sanctioned cover can be arranged by the worker for the time spent absent.

DPD is part of the global parcel service Geopost, which has a workforce of around 5,000 couriers; many of whom are self-employed and therefore only receive payment when available to work.

Speaking to the Guardian, a worker who choose to remain anonymous said:

‘I said I couldn’t come in because I was too sick and it wouldn’t have been safe for me to drive. He said: ‘Sorry, I have to charge you.’

The company insists the £150 fee reflects the ‘liquidated damages’ accrues during the loss of a day’s work, and that HM Revenue & Customs approved the scheme

DPD amassed a profit of £100m during 2015 and is expected to grow further as online shopping increases in popularity.

The fee system at DPD has been its standard practice for some time, but is only now being widely documented. This controversy of the contract follows months of tribunal hearings in which other gig economy businesses, such as Uber, Deliveroo and City Sprint, have been forced to grant better working rights to their self-employed staff.

One of the most vocal critics of the scheme is Frank Field, chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions committee, who said the following:

“The gig economy is producing wave after wave of evidence on the grim reality of life at the bottom of Britain’s labour market. A group of companies now controls the working lives of an unknown number of people, and yet evades its own responsibilities as employers and taxpayers by labelling those people as self-employed’.

The average DPD courier is paid £200 per day and will not receive payment for the time absent, therefore when combined with the fee, each daily loss totals £350.

A spokesman for DPD defended the company’s decision to collect a fee from its absent workers:

“Franchisees are contracted to provide a service. If they fail to do so, DPD have to fulfil that service and therefore reserve the right to charge the franchisee for the costs involved in doing so.”

This fee system is believed to have been in operation for several years at DPD but is only now being scrutinised. It also stresses how its couriers receive many benefits from the arrangement, including the right to an average annual wage of £37,000 after a year of service.

Like many other gig economy employers, it’s highly likely DPD will experience further analysis of its contracts to determine whether self-employment rights are being compromised, especially as so many reputable retailers rely on the company for deliveries.

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The Trade Union Act 2016 Explained

The Trade Union Act 2016, which makes a number of changes to the way in which industrial action is organised, came into force on 1 March 2017.

The Act amends the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992, including Section 226 on the requirement to hold a ballot before any trade union action.

Under the new regime, a majority vote in favour of industrial action will only be regarded as having the support of a ballot if at least 50 per cent of those entitled to vote did so. Different rules will apply, however, before industrial action in ‘important public services’ can go ahead. These include the health, fire, transport and border security sectors, plus public education provision to those age under 17. In such disputes, a further test is to be applied whereby 40 per cent of all eligible union members must vote in favour of the industrial action for it to be legal.

An overview of the Act and information on further changes can be found here.