Worker rights and the ‘Gig Economy’ – more change to come?

Jonathan Rennie, employment partner at UK law firm TLT, takes a look at rights for workers in the gig economy and how the fallout from this evolving way of working is likely to affect HR Managers.

Workers’ rights and the gig economy – a brief overview of the issues

Modern employment practices in the UK have come under intense scrutiny in the past year or so. The rise of gig economy employers like Uber and Deliveroo, which place greater reliance on temporary, short-term “jobs”, has created a state of flux within modern working practices. The disputes that have followed have captured the attention of the media, both in the UK and the US.

Technology based platforms have been a game changer for many businesses, including Uber which has grown from a small start-up in Silicon Valley to a global player seemingly overnight. But it has also generated a number of questions over workers’ rights in the modern workplace. In cases involving businesses such as Uber, CitySprint and Pimlico Plumbers Ltd, it was established that rather than being self-employed, the individuals were in fact workers. This may create difficulties for a number of businesses that operate similar models.

Workers’ rights are also now firmly at the centre of UK politics. In the run up to the snap General Election, both the Conservative and Labour Party manifestos pledged to reform workers’ rights in the UK; something that Theresa May later reinforced in the Queen’s Speech.


The Taylor Report

The Taylor Report on Employment Practices in the Modern Economy is due to be published any day now. The report was commissioned by the government in October 2016 to consider some of the key issues raised by the gig economy and the resulting uncertainty over employment status. The report will look at modern workplace practices and business models, including the use of zero hour contracts; the security, pay and rights of workers; and consider potential reforms of employment status.

There are indications from Matthew Taylor (who is leading the review) that the recommendations may include:

  • A premium hourly rate above the minimum wage for those workers required to be on standby for work that may not materialise under zero hour contracts.
  • The “right to request” fixed hours, which has been supported by the CBI. This would operate under a similar statutory framework as the right to request flexible working, but would instead enable those on zero hour contracts to request fixed hours.

The Law Society has also published its own recommendations, including the provision of clearer definitions of the different employment statuses (employee, worker and self-employed).


The Holder Report

Uber remains at the heart of this ongoing debate. After the online blog of a former worker prompted an internal investigation into the company’s culture earlier this year, the company’s board unanimously accepted the report’s 47 recommendations in full.

While this was a US-based report, it is clear that there is a trend towards greater protection of workers’ rights and employee wellbeing, with employers under increasing pressure to comply with their legal obligations.

The recommendations of the Holder Report included creating a board oversight committee and reviewing Uber’s cultural values. While the details of the UK-based Taylor Report remain to be seen, businesses and HR professionals should be alert to the recommendations it makes, as these are likely to shape the details within this area going forwards.


Looking Ahead

It is anticipated that there will be further developments as more gig economy cases end up in the Employment Tribunal. Uber has also appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal and so there may be more developments to follow from this particular case.

In the UK, the Taylor Report will contain recommendations only, and so it will be for the Conservative government to determine which recommendations will be taken forward and implemented. The Law Society recommendation of providing clear definitions of employment statuses can only be of benefit to both businesses and individuals, as currently this is a very complex and difficult area to navigate.

Businesses and HR professionals will need to keep appraised of developments as and when this takes shape, to ensure that their company does not end up in the next media storm.

Author: Editorial Team

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