We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)

Managing the gig economy

February 19, 2021 3:41 PM

kie4 (Photo by Austin Distel on Unsplash)Two unrelated yet connected stories got us wondering just how serious the government is about worker protections. There has always been a concern that the Conservatives would use the extra freedoms allowed by leaving the EU to weaken worker protections despite their protestations to the contrary

Whitehall's newly departed employment tsar, Matthew Taylor, said there was a "deafening silence" from ministers on the landmark employment reforms, in areas such as zero-hour contracts and the gig economy, which were announced by Boris Johnson more than a year ago. Taylor, who was the government's director of labour market enforcement until the end of last month, questioned the Conservative party's desire to safeguard working standards.

"There is still no clarity on what the government intends to do. We have seen a gradual but unmistakable deceleration of the government reform agenda in relation to good work. There was an initial enthusiasm but that has waned, and waned, and waned," he told the Guardian.

However, MPs, including backbench Tories, have grown unsettled by the lack of progress. The Commons women and equalities committee said last week the bill was vital for protecting female workers disproportionately hit by the pandemic. Caroline Nokes, the group's Conservative chair, said: "We think it's important the bill comes forward before the end of June.".

While the urgency of tackling Covid had delayed other areas of policy, Taylor said more could have been done and suggested the Tories were increasingly split on how to proceed.

"I suspect they are caught in the horns of a dilemma, in that they have deregulatory instincts you would expect of a Conservative government. And you have a business community very unhappy about Brexit, so they don't want to be seen to be doing anything that might look like they are putting further burdens on business," he said.

"We are seeing a government that doesn't want to abandon its commitment to good work, but also doesn't want to upset the deregulatory wing of its own party and parts of British business."

As if on cue the Supreme Court has rejected an Uber appeal against an earlier decision which means tens of thousands of Uber drivers are set to be entitled to the national minimum wage, holiday pay and whistleblower protection.

Paul Jennings, a partner at Bates Wells, who represented the drivers in the case, told The Independent that other gig economy firms would need to reconsider their business models.

"More broadly, there are four to five million people working in the gig economy and there are clear parallels between how the businesses in this area work.

"This is the first Supreme Court decision on the gig economy and it sets clear guidance down for those other operators and has a really broad set of implications."

Mr Jennings added: "If they are similar [to Uber], they either change how they operate or they take on a very big risk. I think all employers in this space need to think very carefully about the content of this judgment."

The decision means that Uber will have to consider its drivers workers from when they log into the company's app until they log off, not just when they have a passenger in their car. Drivers must therefore be paid at least national minimum wage for those hours.

The pandemic has seen many zero hours workers take a big hit in hours worked and money earnt which adds to the growth in poverty which is all around us. Is it too much to ask the government to keep its promise to legislate to protect those whose work is uncertain and in many cases unfair?