Webinar summary: 'Employee, Contractor or Business'

CLEW, together with the School of Law, recently co-hosted a Webinar ‘Employee, Contractor or Business?’ chaired by Prof Gordon Anderson of the Law School. This Webinar, which attracted around 50 participants from around the world, was intended to provide attendees with a commentary on developments in the United Kingdom spearheaded by the Institute for Employment Rights.

The Status of Workers Bill developed by the Institute was introduced into the House of Lords as a private members Bill and was recently given a second reading. Although receiving wide cross party support it is unlikely that the Conservative Government will allow the Bill to proceed further.

Addressing the Webinar were the sponsor of the Bill, John Hendy (or in his Parliamentary guise as a Labour Peer, Lord Hendy), and Prof Keith Ewing of the Kings College London Dickson Poon Law School. Keith was one of the key drafters of the Status of Workers Bill. A New Zealand perspective on these developments was provided by employment lawyer Peter Kiely and the NZCTU’s legal advisor, Gayaal Iddamalgoda.

At its simplest, the Status of Workers Bill provides a single statutory category of ‘workers’ which is intended to encompass any person that is contractually obliged to provide labour other than a person that is genuinely operating their own business. Any worker who comes within the statutory definition, including dependent contractors and gig workers, would be entitled to the full range of statutory protections currently limited to ‘employees’.

The presentation clearly illustrated that the problems faced by New Zealand workers do not vary from those faced by workers in the United Kingdom and that employers in both countries employ the same range of legal tactics to exclude workers from statutory protections. This includes the increasing use of personal service companies (companies that in reality consist only of the worker but which provide a fake “commercial” front with which the beneficiary of labour contracts).

There are clearly some lessons to be taken from the United Kingdom example particularly for the tripartite working party currently considering the employer/contractor distinction in the New Zealand context.

The webinar was recorded and will be available here soon or by contacting CLEW.

Supporting documents are: Status of Workers Bill (UK) and Ewing et al (2019) ‘Universality of Labour Law’

Summary by Professor Gordon Anderson, Faculty of Law, Victoria University of Wellington.