Ryan Fletcher: Don’t be fooled by PwC’s “flexible” Brexit economy

Amid the Brexit worry surrounding Parliament’s on-going debate over the triggering of Article 50, there appeared to be a crack of light from PricewaterhouseCooper (PwC).

Despite the government’s hard Brexit stance, the accountancy firm published a report yesterday (February 7) claiming that any short term repercussions from leaving the EU will ultimately be forgotten as the post-Brexit economy thrives over the long term.

The question is: thrives for who?

PwC chief economist John Hawksworth says overall the UK will outperform rivals because it has a “relatively flexible economy by European standards.”

The mention of a “flexible economy” is an ominous sign. Ask many of the three million and counting people already working in the UK’s flexible economy and they’ll tell you what that means — flexibility for bosses to do what they want.

Swapping the term “flexible” for “insecure” gives a better impression of PwC’s vision for the UK outside of the EU. It means insecure working hours, insecure terms and conditions and ultimately an insecure life for ordinary people.

This is already the cold truth for thousands of families across the UK struggling to make ends meet on zero-hour contracts, temporary positions or in gig economy roles.

These are jobs where people can be denied full employee rights such as holiday or sick pay, where there is no guarantee of regular working hours and where workers can be cowed into being treated unfairly because bosses choose who works and who doesn’t.

A flexible economy is one where those at the top benefit from workforces who are disempowered and fearful for their jobs. Wages and conditions are driven down because without proper contracts and safeguards staff have little legal recourse to stand up for themselves. In this way worker is pitted against worker in order to stay in their employer’s good graces – even when they know they are being treated badly.

Theresa May risks an explosion in this type of work if she stands by a hard Brexit and her threat of turning Britain into a deregulated tax-haven based on capitulating to the demands of big business. But there is another way forward that better serves the UK’s working people and it means working with trade unions instead of trying to discount them.

Through measures such as strengthening UK workers’ rights, bolstering unionised jobs, introducing sectoral collective bargaining powers, banning zero-hour contracts and tackling rogue employers, Britain’s post-Brexit economy can made to work for everyone.

Decent wages and secure work are among the key factors in maintaining a healthy and sustainable economy. These are the things the government should be aiming for during the Brexit negotiations and once Britain has left the EU.