In a landmark win against the government, the Independent Workers of Great Britain (IWGB) union has successfully shown that the British State is in breach of international law by not providing health and safety protections to precarious workers.
In a judicial review brought by the union, the High Court agreed last Friday (13 November) that EU health and safety directives should cover workers in the gig economy and other forms of insecure work, rather than just to those in more traditional roles.
Like many weaknesses in the UK’s health and safety law, the exclusion of insecure workers from health and safety rights has been exposed by the coronavirus pandemic. The IWGB found people classed as ‘workers’ (or, incorrectly, as ‘self-employed’) rather than ’employees’ – such as agency workers, zero-hour contract workers and ‘gig’ workers – are being denied access to PPE.
Alex Marshall, IWGB President, reported that employers have proven reluctant to protect workers without a legal imperative to do so.
“Key workers have been calling for greater protection throughout the pandemic and this has largely fallen on the deaf ears of their employers,” he said.
“The IWGB contacted numerous companies during the first wave and they either did very little or nothing at all as they tried to escape any accountability for their workforce.”
The number of people put at risk during the pandemic as a result of the UK’s failure to correctly implement EU health and safety laws is 4.7 million – around 10% of the workforce.
High Court judge Mr Justice Chamberlain ruled that insecure workers are legally entitled to PPE and the right to stop working in response to serious and imminent danger.
“Government should now take urgent steps to make sure the judgment is followed and all gig-economy workers can exercise their rights to health and safety protection and PPE during the pandemic and beyond,” Solicitor for the IGWB, Kate Harrison of Harrison Grant Solicitors, said.