Belfast Telegraph

Desire to change Britain to help the 'just about managing' undimmed: Theresa May

Theresa May has insisted her determination to change Britain in the interests of those who are "just about managing" remains "undimmed" despite the loss of her parliamentary majority.

In her first major speech since the General Election debacle of June 8, Mrs May said she would act to protect the rights of workers, following the publication of Matthew Taylor's report on the so-called "gig economy".

She appealed to other political parties to put forward their proposals for debate and discussion ahead of the Government's full response to the report later in the year.

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn responded by sending the Prime Minister a copy of Labour's election manifesto.

Mrs May acknowledged the election result - which left her at the head of a minority Government dependent on the support of the Democratic Unionist Party - was "not what I wanted".

However, she insisted she would press forward with the reform agenda she set out when she first arrived in 10 Downing Street a year ago, saying: "My commitment to changing Britain is undimmed."

She added: "At this critical time in our history, we can either be timid or we can be bold.

"We can play it safe or we can strike out with renewed courage and vigour, making the case for our ideas and values and challenging our opponents to contribute, not just criticise.

"I think this country needs a Government that is prepared to take the bold action necessary to secure a better future for Britain, and we are determined to be that Government.

"In everything we do, we will act with an unshakeable sense of purpose to build the better, fairer Britain which we all want to see."

Mrs May said the Government's response to the Taylor Report would be guided by the aim of ensuring "the interests of employees on traditional contracts, the self-employed and those people working in the 'gig' economy are all properly protected" but she insisted "overbearing regulation" must be avoided.

The PM said it is important to ensure zero-hours contracts do not allow employers to "exploit" workers, but she rejected Labour's call for them to be banned as she warned such a move would "harm more people than it would help".

The Taylor Report recommended the creation of a new category of worker in employment law called a "dependent contractor" to cover those who are not full-time employees but do not enjoy the autonomy traditionally seen as part of self-employment.

Mr Taylor - a former adviser to Tony Blair who is now chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) - set out seven "principles for fair and decent work", including:

:: A goal of "good work for all";

:: Additional protections for workers suffering unfair, one-sided flexibility;

:: Stronger incentives for firms to treat workers fairly;

:: A more proactive approach to workplace health.

But his report won a lukewarm response from unions and employment lawyers, who said it did little to help the growing number of workers in delivery and taxi firms such as Deliveroo and Uber.

Mr Taylor said the Low Pay Commission should explore a higher minimum wage level for hours that are not guaranteed, and giving people the right to request fixed hours and permanent contracts.

Companies will also be required to disclose how they respond to these requests.

"There's nothing wrong with zero and low-hours contracts but they should be a means to two-way flexibility, not a lazy way for those with market power to dump risk on those who lack that power," he said.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said gig economy employers will be "breathing a sigh of relief" because the review is "not the game-changer needed to end insecurity and exploitation at work".

The CBI said businesses "agree that flexibility must be matched with fairness", but Unite union leader Len McCluskey said without effective legal enforcement "then all we have from Mr Taylor and the Government is a dog that is all bark and no bite".

Mr Corbyn insisted the Taylor Report " doesn't go far enough" and called for zero-hours contracts to be banned and "bogus self-employment" to be stopped.

The Labour leader said Mrs May's appeal for parties to co-operate was a "change of language from the arrogance" that was on show during the election.

He later tweeted a photograph of himself signing a copy of Labour's manifesto, adding: "Dear @theresa_may, you asked for ideas so I've sent you our manifesto.

"I hope it helps to 'clarify and improve' your policies #ForTheMany."

Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman and party leadership candidate Sir Vince Cable said the Taylor Report's proposals are "b roadly sensible" but work is needed " to stamp out abuse of zero-hours contracts".