The parliamentary Committee for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (the government's recently re-named business department) has launched an inquiry into the topical issue of "the future world of work", focussing on the employment status and working practices of agency workers, the self-employed, and those working in the gig economy.

The inquiry follows the Committee's recent investigations into working practices at Sports Direct and its July 2016 report on the Digital Economy, which looked at the employment conditions of workers in the sharing economy.

The inquiry is a separate initiative to the review of employment rights announced by the Prime Minster last month, to be led by Matthew Taylor. However, it does seem likely that it will cover much of the same ground - the balance between flexible labour and benefits such as higher pay and greater work availability; access to rights such as the minimum wage, maternity and paternity rights, pension auto-enrolment, sick pay and holiday pay; and whether the definition of employment status needs to be updated to reflect new forms of working/business models.

Specific issues the Committee says it intends to cover include:

  • Is the term "worker" defined sufficiently clearly in law? What should be the status (for employment and tax purposes) and rights of agency workers, casual workers, and the self- employed/those working in the gig economy?
  • What is the correct balance of benefits as between casual/agency workers and employers?
  • Should there be differences between levels of government support (such as statutory sick and maternity pay, holiday pay, employee pensions) for the self-employed and for employees?
  • Whether there is evidence that businesses are treating agency workers unfairly, compared with employees (examples might include schemes such as pre-paid debit cards and deductions from pay for insurance services). Should the use of agency workers be constrained?
  • Terms and conditions of employees, including the use of zero- hour contracts, definitions of flexible contracts and minimum wage enforcement.

The Committee is asking for interested parties to submit written submissions online by 19 December; evidence sessions will start in the New Year.

Meanwhile, another parliamentary committee – the Women and Equalities Committee – has an ongoing inquiry, running until 9 November, examining the implications of Brexit on UK equalities legislation and policy. This is looking at what aspects of equalities legislation could be affected when the UK leaves the EU and the role of the European Court of Justice and the European Court of Human Rights post-Brexit, in particular whether there might be a legal gap for UK citizens who want to appeal decisions taken by the UK courts.