Regulating Flexible Work by Deidre McCann

AuthorHugh Collins
Publication Date01 Jan 2009
Deidre McCann, Regulating Flexible Work,Oxford: Oxford University Press,
2008,198pp, hb d50.00.
In this addition to the excellentseries Oxford Monographs on Labour Law,theauthor
analyses the legal position of the three main types of non-standard work in Brit-
ain: part-time, temporary, and temporary agency work. The exploration of the
legal position of these three substantial groups ofworkers is placed inthe context
of the policy debates and initiatives within the New Labour government in the
United Kingdom and the European Employment Strategy and its Social Policy
implications.The author’s central message might be summarised crudely as ‘Mind
the Gap’. Inparticular, the gap between therhetoric of New Labour policy docu-
ments and the implementation of e¡ective legal protection for these groups of
marginal workers comes across at least to this reader of these pages as a vivid tale
of miss ed opportun ities by government, which inevitably call into question its
true commitment in its original White Paper to its declared policy of Fair nes s at
Wo r k .
Such a harshjudgement onthe last decade is not entirely straightforward,as the
author ably explains in Chapter 1. The New Labour government never pro-
claimed that it would reduce the incidence of non-standard work. On the con-
trary, from the star tt he government in sisted that it wanted to support ‘£exibility’,
and this proteanterm certainly includedthe possibility of the proliferation of jobs
that were not inde¢nite, full-time employment. Indeed, the growth in such types
of work was regarded by theTreasury as a sign that Britain had the most £exible
labour market and was therefore the best place in which to do business. In the
Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), however, as the author explains, there
remained nagging worries thatlabour market £exibility should not mean simply
lots of temporary, part-time, unskilled jobs; on the contrary, the jobs that were
needed might be £exible in their packages of terms and conditions, but they
should be ones requiringhigh skills and training, leadingto good wages in‘High
PerformanceWorkplaces’. Furthermore, the DTI and other departments began to
promote ‘Family-friendly’ policies, which involved the possibility of parents hav-
ing £exibility in job commitments without losing the long-term career bene¢ts
of employment status. So, perhaps exaggerating the contrast somewhat, from the
point of viewof the Treasury, the policy of £exibility and fairness required little
by wayof new legal regulation, whereasi n the DTI, most noticeably in the White
Paper Success at Work (2006), published shortly before the demise of the Ministry,
some regulation was thought necessary to promote fairness, the qual ity of the
jobs, and competitiveness through h igh skilled non- standard jobs in order to pro-
tect vulnerable workers.
The end result of these di¡ering perspectives on regulation, as explained in
Chapter 2 and subsequently in more detail in the following chapters, were some
hesitant stepstowards providing these marginal groups of workers with a normal
package of employment law rights, but there were many inconsistencies, rever-
sals, and failures to follow through the agenda. The author correctly describes
what she calls‘A Retreat from the Protection of Non-Standard Workers’ or ‘light
touch regulation’ (48). Consider, for instance,the fate of section 23 of theEmploy-
ment Relations Act 1999, which empowers the Minister to designate by statutory
r2009 The Authors. Journal Compilationr20 09 The Modern LawReview Limited.
(2009) 72(1) 130^155

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