Govt investigation into gig economy involves no workers’ representatives

01 December 2016 When Theresa May announced the Taylor Review into employment practices in the gig economy, she said it would consider the impact of casual work on workers' rights, yet no trade union or workers' representatives have been given a role within the investigation.

1 Dec 2016| News

01 December 2016

When Theresa May announced the Taylor Review into employment practices in the gig economy, she said it would consider the impact of casual work on workers’ rights, yet no trade union or workers’ representatives have been given a role within the investigation.

The government announced yesterday (30 November 2016) that Matthew Taylor, former adviser to Tony Blair and Chair of the Taylor Review, would be joined by three experts while conducting visits around the country to gather evidence for his report.

Paul Broadbent, Chief Executive of the Gangmasters Licensing Authority (GLA) – which aims to prevent the criminal exploitation of the most vulnerable workers in sectors such as agriculture – is the only person on the team that has any connection to the rights of workers.

His colleagues on the review include a businessman – Greg Marsh, Founder of onefinestay, a service providing luxury holiday apartments; and Diane Nicol, an employment lawyer for Pinsent Masons, who specialises in representing employers during industrial relations disputes, site moves, closure, and employment terms and conditions. According to the legal firm’s website, clients have described her as “always commercial”.

TUC analysis of official figures from the Office for National Statistics show that 88% of new full-time jobs created in the three months to July of this year were classified as self-employed, and that such roles now account for one sixth of all jobs in the UK.

In a recent analysis for the Guardian, John Philpott discovered that one in five workers are now in precarious employment with the number of people in jobs they could lose at no or short notice rising by two million in the last two years. He also found that earnings for these workers have dropped dramatically, with those classified as “self employed” taking home around half the wage of employees; those on zero-hours contracts earning around 40% of average pay; and temporary staff receiving around two-thirds of the typical income of someone in secure work.

But how many of those who are “self employed” are misclassified as such? Many indicators suggest that a significant number of them should be legally defined as workers. GMB won a landmark case against Uber this Autumn, in which the employment tribunal agreed the app’s drivers fit the legal classification of workers rather than self-employed, and are therefore eligible for fundamental employment rights such as minimum wage, rest breaks, and sick and holiday pay. Uber employs over 30,000 drivers in the UK and has a business model similar to other popular apps such as Deliveroo – a company which many think will be the next in line for investigation.

Despite this mounting evidence that workers are the biggest victims of the gig economy, none of the Taylor Review experts are trade union representatives or employment lawyers who represent workers.

The Institute of Employment Rights plans to provide evidence to the Taylor Review, in which we will outline our proposals for the improvement of employment rights, already adopted by the Labour Party.

Our Manifesto for Labour Law, which was authored by 15 labour lawyers and academics, sets forth a comprehensive plan for the restructuring of employment rights and their enforcement, shifting the focus of labour law from statutory minimums to collectively bargained wages and conditions.

With workers represented at every level of the economy – sitting on company boards, negotiating with employers at both enterprise and sectoral levels, and represented in parliament through a reinstated Ministry of Labour with a Cabinet seat and a National Economic Forum that brings all stakeholders in society together to scrutinise policy – we provide the legal framework through which workers’ voices can be strengthened in order to remedy the imbalance of power between employers and their staff. We also recommend simplifying the legal definitions of ‘workers’ and ’employees’ in order to create a universal definition that encompasses everyone in employment, thereby affording them automatic workers’ rights. This will be an important step in closing the loopholes exploited by companies like Uber to evade both taxes and their responsibilities to their workers.

After the Social Mobility Commission reported that only 10% of those on low pay ever escape onto higher earnings, it is vital that we provide better opportunities for democracy at work. Powerless against employers, workers are clearly trapped within low-skilled and low-paid jobs – something the Social Mobility Commission warned could end in a skills crisis within the coming years, as low-skilled workers begin to outnumber appropriate jobs, and high-skilled jobs stay unfilled. The UK’s productivity is already at a historic low compared with our major G7 competitors. Improving this situation is vital not only to creating a fair and equal society, but also to our sustainable recovery from recession and our resilience to future financial crises.

Given the mechanism through which they can have a say on their working conditions, wages and training, workers can have a role in improving their skills, productivity, and advancement, thereby providing an incentive for employers to upskill their staff, pay fair wages, and compete through innovation of their product and services rather than relying on undercutting one another on employment rights and pay.

Read more about our Manifesto and purchase your copy here