The parallels between Guy Fawkes’ times and employment legislation changes today.

By Andy Charles

In 1605, thirteen young men planned to blow up the Houses of Parliament, one of whom was Guy Fawkes, one of Britain’s most notorious traitors.

This was in response to the suffering which Catholics endured under the reign of Queen Elizabeth I – the hope being that things would improve as James I took to the throne, as he himself had a Catholic Mother. Their hopes were short lived.

The plan was to ultimately kill the King and Members of Parliament who were making their lives difficult.

Fast forward four hundred and eleven years and Philip Hammond and the rest of the Tories would be forgiven for being nowhere near Westminster on 5th November, as this government takes on the whole Contingent Workforce Sector over the further proposed IR35 changes.

The parallels are frighteningly similar to that in the 1600’s, as the legislative changes continue to land year after year and the ‘merry-go-round’ of persecution towards the temporary workforce continues to spin faster. You could forgive the sector for feeling the same suffering and frustrations as the Catholics did back in the 16th Century.

No stranger to the world of consulting himself, Hammond, the son of a Civil Engineer, spent time as a consultant before he assumed office in May 1997. Let’s hope that unlike James I, Hammond remembers his roots and impresses upon his right honourable peers, the value that the contingent workforce brings to the UK economy, in what are unchartered waters and uncertain times.

There has been considerable pressure, from the sector, for the Government to re-think its strategy on how to ‘fix’ the tax system, which continues to adversely affect the contracting workforce. It is complicated at best and impossible at worst, to try and understand the changes in rules and legislation, which are applied year on year.

Calls for the government to conduct a strategic review fell on deaf ears, so trade body PRISM decided to set the ball rolling and find an independent think tank to carry out this task. The Social Market Foundation (SMF), led by director Emran Mian, took up the challenge and are currently performing a review of employment and tax legislation – we await their findings to see what effect, if any, they may have on shaping future policy.

However, since this strategic review began, Theresa May has now announced an official review of the employment legislation. Great news! And, maybe there is authenticity in this gesture, through her pledge to ‘build a county and economy that works for everyone, not just the privileged few’.

The sceptics among you will moot that perhaps it’s just more political ‘smoke and mirrors’ – May is no fool and  knows that steering us through Brexit will be tricky and she will be anticipating to keep her seat warm at 10 Downing Street for another term. To do this, she must appeal to disaffected Labour voters currently up for grabs, so opting for Matthew Taylor – former adviser to Tony Blair – to conduct this review, may help her woo middle England, many of who can’t bear to move over to the hard left occupied by Corbyn et al.

Established and respected voice of the sector, Damian Broughton MBE, welcomed the news of this review in a recent interview in the Lancashire Evening Post. Broughton, in his role as Executive Chairman of Danbro, has campaigned and been outspoken in his support for the industry and believes that, “it is absolutely critical that employment legislation is overhauled to match the modern way of working.”

I think most of the flexible workforce would agree that enough is enough and the sector now needs a break from relentless changes and ‘tinkering’ with employment legislation. It is still reeling from the Travel and Subsistence changes imposed in April this year.

The proposed changes for 2017 will see circa 90% – 95% of public sector workers ‘caught’ and adversely affected by the suggested legislation amendments.

Writing us out of the ‘EU script’ is a story which is being created as you read this article. It will need to be done within a prescribed timescale – and once Article 50 is triggered (before the end of March 2017), then the clock starts ticking. At this point our civil servants will become the most powerful people in the country!

This now gives Hammond time to play his ‘get out of jail card’ before delivering his first budget, to ensure that the public sector has a skilled and proficient pool of workers to choose from. He won’t want to be caught short with only a dearth of talent to choose from and as things become complicated and behind schedule (which they will), the contingent workforce will surely flex its power and prove its worth to the UK’s future prosperity.

On the very night that the Gunpowder Plot was foiled, 5th November 1605, bonfires were set alight – with burning effigies of Guy Fawkes – to celebrate the safety of the King. After much thought, I am unsure though whether the bonfires were really lit as a way to honour Guy Fawkes’ attempt do away with the government?

So make sure on Saturday night that you check any bonfires you attend, to ensure that any well dressed and strategically placed effigies are just that – and not unfortunate cabinet members or policy makers of employment legislation.

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