Gill Taylor: Views on the gig economy

The status of flexible workers in the modern economy is the subject of great debate, writes our columnist

Gill Taylor
Gill Taylor

Issues about employment status have been in the news lately because of the growth of the "gig economy". Companies such as Deliveroo and Uber tend treat their couriers and drivers as self-employed, although they clearly have an ongoing relationship with one employer.

The companies argue that it allows flexibility because workers determine when they work. Clearly this has major advantages for the employers, which save on national insurance and avoid paying the minimum wage, holiday pay and sick pay. In fact, some of these employers have been charging workers a fee when they can’t work. This is truly unruly capitalism.  

Both the government and the unions have been exercised by the rise of the gig economy for different reasons. In late 2016, the Work and Pensions Committee published a report on the issue. This said it was a myth that flexible working came only with self-employed status.

In many cases, the true motive was profit and not flexibility. It also concluded that there had been a significant growth in "bogus" self-employment, which did not stand up to scrutiny in court: for example, describing workers as self-employed to avoid them gaining the legal rights enjoyed by those with "worker" status.

The report’s key recommendation was to introduce a presumption of worker status until proven otherwise. This would represent a major change in the law and would have a wide-ranging effect on businesses. It would also massively benefit workers’ rights. There is no sign that the government is going to accept this proposed change.

Over the past year, the unions have also persuaded separate tribunals that several CitySprint couriers and Uber taxi drivers were "workers". Uber is now appealing the decision. Those categorised as workers have a right to the minimum wage and to paid annual leave, along with some other procedural rights, such as a right to be accompanied at any form of disciplinary meeting.  

However "workers" are not "employees" and therefore do not get the full range of legal rights and protections given to employees and are not subject to PAYE.

The findings of the Good Work: the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices were also published in July. The government-backed report makes a number of recommendations for improving working conditions for atypical workers, such as those on zero-hours contracts.

I’ll explore the findings of the Taylor review in my column next month.

Gill Taylor is a sector HR consultant

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