News | Published March 30 2019

Frank Field: “Rampant injustice” in the gig economy

Labour MP Frank Field proposed six recommendations this week that aim to reduce the injustice faced by gig economy workers in the UK.

Field, who Chairs the Work and Pensions Select Committee, has just published his report Legalising the Gig Economy in which he calls on the judicial system to provide to provide gig workers with greater rights.

His proposals included providing employment tribunals with new powers and creating new labour inspectorate, but he admitted “there is no sure-fire way of extending justice”.

In December an editorial in The Guardian said the UK economy was “too reliant” on low-wage, low skilled jobs which are often insecure.

It said: “The increased level of intervention by the government in the labour market since Theresa May became prime minister is both rational and humane” – pointing out the government had accepted 51 of the 53 recommendations in the 2017 Taylor review – but urged ministers to do more.

The paper cited figures published by charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation indicating that one in eight workers are now classified as poor.

Although the minimum wage is due to increase from £7.83 to £8.21 in April, an estimated £3.1 billion in wages went unpaid in 2016. Much of this was holiday pay.

In December the government published the Good Work Plan, its response to the Taylor review.

The business secretary, Greg Clark, said: “The review has ensured the UK is leading the way in tackling the new and emerging challenges posted by a changing world of work Matthew Taylor made a number of recommendations to government – the vast majority of which we accepted in early 2018.

“I am proud to be the first secretary of state to take responsibility for quality of work.”

The CBI’s policy director, Matthew Fell, welcomed the report and the government’s response.

He said: “Businesses support a strong floor of workplace rights, and it’s right that these laws keep pace with changes in the economy and society. They welcome a new law giving all workers the right to request more predictable working hours which will help to facilitate the conversations that are essential to ensuring flexibility benefits both parties.

“However, legislation to amend employment status rules risks making the law less able to adapt to new forms of work in the future.”

In January the Financial Times said that 2019 would be a key one for the gig economy, citing two large players in the market moving toward initial public offerings.

The paper’s Sarah O’Connor said there had been years of debate over whether the gig economy was a good or bad thing, but the IPOs for Uber and rival Lyft would answer the question of whether they were actually sustainable, pointing out that both companies were still losing money.

Last year Uber won an appeal against a 2017 decision by the mayor of London that it was not a “fit and proper” operator, but it introduced new rules including one on how many hours a driver could work in a given period.

But 2018 saw the company lose another appeal against an earlier ruling that its drivers were workers, rather than “independent contractors”, which has implications for the minimum wage and their holiday pay entitlement.

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The Parliamentary Review

March 30 2019

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