High Court: Government failed gig workers’ health and safety

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The government has failed to implement important EU health and safety protections for workers into UK law, a judicial review at the High Court has ruled today.

In case brought by the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) Mr Justice Chamberlain found that the UK has failed to grant workers in the gig economy the rights they are entitled to under European directives on safety and health at work.

The judgment means that “workers” in the gig economy are entitled to the same health and safety rights as employees, including being provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) by the business they are working for, and the right to stop work in response to serious and imminent danger. The government must now take steps to ensure workers have the same protection as employees.

The IWGB said the pandemic had turned workers’ rights into a public health issue, saying the government’s failure to extend health and safety protections has left many workers in the ‘gig economy’ exposed to serious risks. The TUC estimates that one in 10 adults  – around 4.7 million people – engage in ‘gig economy’ work.

Henry Chango Lopez, IWGB general secretary said: “We are delighted with this win for workers’ rights. In the midst of the pandemic, health and safety at work has never been more important. It is crucial that businesses know they must protect the health and safety of their workers and that the government brings the criminal prosecutions necessary to enforce this law.”

The judicial review was supported by a public crowdfunding initiative which received more than 100 donations. The judge agreed with the IWGB that the government has failed to transpose into UK law council directives 89/391/EC – the Framework Directive – and 89/656/EC – “the PPE Directive”.

This is because in UK law these protections have only been extended to employees, whereas the High Court found that their scope is wide enough to “limb (b)” workers, as defined in the Employment Rights Act 1996.

Alex Marshall, IWGB president says: “Key workers have been calling for greater protection throughout the pandemic and this has largely fallen on the deaf ears of their employers. 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. This ruling is long overdue and the IWGB expects that in the light of this clear ruling, the UK government will now take urgent legislative measures to ensure workers’ safety.”

The IWGB’s solicitor, Kate Harrison, partner at Harrison Grant, said: “We are delighted by this clear decision and the 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.”

A government spokesperson said: “We acknowledge the judgment handed down by the High Court and will set out our formal response shortly.”

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