Time to deliveroo some über-important rights to gig economy workers?
Many of us have been there. You whip out your smartphone to book a taxi to take you home and, on the way, you order up a tasty takeaway to be sped to your house in a large box strapped the back of a student riding a bicycle. It’s convenient to be sure, but many (not least our drivers and box-backed riders) can’t help but notice that many legal protections bestowed upon employees are conspicuous only by their absence.
The gig economy has grown considerably in recent years and it can be highly beneficial, not only for businesses, but also for workers who value the flexibility inherent in the business model. Such benefits notwithstanding, however, the House of Commons Work & Pensions, and Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Committees recently called on the government to close loopholes in employment law that currently allow gig economy businesses to force workers to be self-employed, denying them key entitlements such as holiday and sick pay.
This follows on from the Taylor Review, commissioned by the government in October 2016 and lead by Matthew Taylor, Chief Executive of the Royal Society of the Arts. The Review’s report (available here) was published in July 2017 and, at the time of writing, is yet to receive a full response from the government.
Shifting the Burden
There have been a number of court cases concerning the status of gig economy workers, including some which the persistently-embattled Uber has lost, but the default position for such workers remains mostly unchanged.
The Committees argue that “the current situation puts an unacceptable burden on workers to address poor practice through an expensive and risky court case while the companies themselves operate with relative impunity.” Under the new proposals, gig economy workers would benefit from a new presumption of worker by default, shifting the burden onto the companies who would have to either provide basic standards, rights, and benefits to their workers or prove that their workers’ true status reflected self-employment. Furthermore, the proposals include tough new penalties designed to outweigh any gains that companies might stand to make from unlawful practices.
The Committees’ proposals also include measures to compensate workers for the uncertainty inherent in gig economy work in the form of a wage premium for hours where work cannot be guaranteed. Not only would this help to balance out a situation in which the flexibility benefits can become quite one-sided, but it may also encourage companies to provide more clearly-defined hours or staff rotas.
A Good Gig?
Pleasing everyone may be difficult, of course. While it would be difficult to argue against improving the rights and protections afforded to gig economy workers, a trade-off that may stand to reduce the flexibility in the system may not be so welcome. Gig economy businesses, of course, maintain that everyone working for them loves the flexibility, and they most likely do, however the lack of protections and rights must surely be addressed in some manner that allows the flexibility in working hours to be preserved.
Do you work in the gig economy? Does your business take on staff on a self-employed basis like this? If so, how would you respond to a change in the law that required you to provide increased rights and benefits to workers while retaining the flexibility inherent in the gig economy of today? As ever, we value your input on the subject!