Unpaid Work Trial Periods | April 2018

I have received numerous letters regarding unpaid trial work periods.
The UK’s flexible labour market gives our businesses a competitive advantage internationally and works for the majority of the population. Employment rates in Britain are at historically high levels, due in no small part to worker’s flexibility. Clearly, if someone is employed and takes on the responsibilities and duties of an employee, for any period, he or she should be paid. Unpaid trial shifts should not be used to cover inadequate workforce planning or as a way to secure cheap labour.
The cost of unpaid trial work periods to applicants can be considerable. Not only are they deprived of an income for the work that they are undertaking, but there is also the potential loss of opportunities that they might have otherwise taken up over that period.
Although many employers have moved away from a traditional sit-down interview, with day-long assessments and practice tasks now commonplace, it seems barely conceivable that it can take forty hours to assess an applicant’s suitability for a job.
However, there are circumstances in which it is appropriate and legitimate to have a brief trial period to assess a candidate’s skills and suitability for a position. These true trial periods benefit both the employer and potential employee and are not in any respect the same as the unacceptable examples that have come to light recently.
The issues that the proposed Unpaid Trial Work Periods (Prohibition) Bill highlights are that the law is unclear as to what constitutes a trial work period and how long a trial has to be before it becomes work. In February 2018, the Government responded to the 2017 Matthew Taylor review, which also highlighted these issues, and announced new guidance to define what employment entails and increase targeted enforcement activity to protect against exploitative employers.
Although I agree with many of the general principles of the Bill, I do not think it is  necessary to support it, given that the Government has indicated its intention to implement the Taylor Review’s recommendations.
April 2018

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