Government’s pledge to boost gig-economy workers’ rights met with mixed responses

Responding to the Taylor Review, Theresa May has announced plans to give gig-economy workers better protection. However, not everyone in the business community is happy with the announcement

Government’s pledge to boost gig-economy workers’ rights met with mixed responses

The results of the Taylor Review were highly anticipated but still proved to be something of a bombshell when they dropped in July last year. Having closely examined the changing nature of work in Britain, the independent report slammed the gig economy for putting too much power in the hands of employers. Now the government has responded by pledging to boost the rights of the people working for startups like Uber and Deliveroo.

The prime minister has announced a list of proposals, which includes giving all workers the right to request more stable contracts. Additionally, the government pledged to improve a number of day-one rights concerning holidays, sick-pay entitlements and a new right to payslips for all workers. Other proposed actions include introducing name-and-shame schemes against employers who fail to pay employment tribunal awards, better defined working hours, potentially repealing laws allowing agencies to employ workers on cheaper rates and asking the Low Pay Commission to consider the impact a higher minimum wage would have on workers on zero-hour contracts.

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome in the gig economy is the difficulty of distinguishing whether someone is employed, self-employed or a worker and therefore what rights and tax obligations they and their employer have. Indeed, it’s been the core issue in numerous employment tribunals over the past few years. Fortunately, as part of its announcement today, the government is aiming to provide some clarity around this by launching a consultation into the matter. That being said, it didn’t offer any detail about the scope or deadline of this consultation.

Commenting on the announced proposals, May said: “We recognise the world of work is changing and we have to make sure we have the right structures in place to reflect those changes, enhancing the UK’s position as one of the best places in the world to do business. We are proud to have record levels of employment in this country but we must also ensure that workers’ rights are always upheld. Our response to this report will mean tangible progress towards that goal as we build an economy that works for everyone.”

And it seems as if some parts of the startup ecosystem were cautiously optimistic about her proposals. One was Deliveroo, the food-delivery startup that has been at the centre of the debate surrounding the gig economy. “Deliveroo has created well-paid flexible work for 15,000 riders across the UK,” a spokesperson said. “The Central Arbitration Committee ruled recently that Deliveroo riders are self-employed, which gives them the flexibility they value most. But Deliveroo wants to go further and offer riders more security too. That’s why we welcome this consultation and the chance to work with the government to end the current legal trade off between flexibility and security.”

However, not everyone was equally excited about the proposals. “The government has taken a baby step when it needed to take a giant leap,” said Frances O’Grady, general secretary at the Trades Union Congress. “These plans won’t stop the hire and fire culture of zero-hours contracts or sham self-employment. And they will still leave 1.8 million workers excluded from key protections.”

However, whether you consider these proposals to be baby steps or a huge shake-up, one thing is certain: the gig economy will remain a hotly debated issue for years to come.

Eric Johansson
Eric Johansson

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