Lack of action on gig economy workers’ rights criticised

"Inaction is no longer an option" – Rachel Reeves, chair of the BEIS select committee
Photo: Richard Gardner/REX/Shutterstock

The Government’s plans to bolster workers’ rights have been criticised for stopping short of bringing in new laws to prevent false self-employment, as had been expected following the Taylor Review last year.

The Prime Minister said the host of proposals announced today would make “tangible progress” in strengthening workers’ rights from their first day of their employment.

But the reaction suggests more work needs to be done to tackle bogus self-employment practices and the rights of gig economy workers.

The Government has launched four consultations into:

Rachel Reeves, chair of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) committee, commented: “The Government’s long overdue response to the Taylor Review shows that they have recognised that inaction is no longer an option. I welcome this.

“But, progress is painfully slow and I am worried that these further consultations are being used to delay making these much needed changes to how people work in the modern economy.”

The shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, accused the Prime Minister of “more words with no real action to improve the lives of the millions of people in insecure work”, whilst Frank Field, chair of the work and pensions committee, said: “Yet more consultation on the crunch issue of bogus self-employment?… The country is crying out for action.”

Progress is painfully slow and I am worried that these further consultations are being used to delay making these much needed changes to how people work in the modern economy,” – Rachel Reeves, chair of the BEIS committee

Employers and workers needed more clarity on what the proposals will mean for them, according to Michael Hibbs, head of employment law at Shakespeare Martineau. However, with Brexit dominating the Government’s agenda, he said the consultations could take time to make any impact.

Maggie Dewhurst, a delivery courier who won an employment tribunal claim against City Sprint, told the Guardian that the proposals will do nothing to protect workers. “By not enforcing our existing employment laws but instead talking about making the system ‘easier to understand’, they are playing into gig employers’ hands, many of whom are wilfully breaking UK law. How much more evidence do we need of gig economy exploitation?”

The rights of self-employed couriers were brought further into the spotlight this week following the death of DPD driver Don Lane, who missed medical appointments to treat his diabetes as he was concerned he would be fined by the company.

REC chief executive Kevin Green said more clarity on the definition of zero-hour contracts was needed, as well as confirmation whether agency workers are included in the proposals.

He added: “We also need to know when exactly people are eligible to request a contract and if additional paperwork around this will mean more bureaucracy and therefore a greater burden.

“In addition, the Government’s reform plans should not apply only to Swedish Derogation but instead should open up all parts of the Agency Workers Regulations for review.”

Hibbs said that both employers and employees would have liked the Government to take proactive action at this stage of the review. “For example, there have been calls to remove the definition of ‘worker’ altogether and instead create a clearer and wider definition of ‘employee’.”

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