MPs' gig economy bill heaps further pressure on May over workers' rights

Two parliamentary committees have drafted a bill aiming at enshrining some of the Taylor Commission's recommendations in law 

Monday 20 November 2017 12:20
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Deliveroo drivers at work in the 'gig economy'
Deliveroo drivers at work in the 'gig economy'

There’s a certain irony in Labour Brexiteer Frank Field fronting a bill aimed at stiffening up the rights of workers in the “gig economy”.

The extremist Tories currently exerting such an outsized influenced over the Brexit process want nothing less than to turn the UK into a Singapore with drizzle, a process that would ultimately end up with all workers in the same invidious position that confronts today’s gig workers.

However, perhaps that's being unfair to Mr Field, who has proved to be a doughty campaigner for the rights of gig workers.

The bill was, anyway, actually the work of two influential parliamentary committees; his Work & Pensions Committee along with the Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy Committee chaired by his Labour colleague Rachel Reeves.

However, it is bipartisan effort, and a worthwhile follow up to the report of Matthew Taylor’s Government backed review into modern employment practices.

The most eye catching proposal of the latter was for the creation of a new employment category - that of ‘dependent contractor’ - to cover those working flexibly for gig firms such as Uber or Deliveroo.

In some respects the committees could be said to have gone further. Staff at gig economy firms under their proposals would, for example, be considered as employees from day one. If their gig employer wanted to treat them as self employed, the onus would be on it to justify doing so.

Currently it's left to workers to challenge their status. They have to approach an employment tribunal, usually with the backing of unions because of the cost). Uber, notably, has made a habit of losing cases that have been brought.

Being considered an employee from day one would confer the right to the minimum wage, and a holiday entitlement.

The bill would legally require employers to provide their staff with a clear written statement of their employment status, making their rights and entitlements clear upfront.

The report further calls for more effort to be made when it comes to taking enforcement action against rogue employers.

It has received supportive words from Mr Taylor but unions think it doesn’t go far enough. Employers organisations, by contrast, say it goes too far, and would harm “flexibility” and stop companies from “creating jobs”.

In other words, they’re saying what they always say in response to any proposals aimed at reforming the labour market.

The spread of reactions suggests that the proposed bill has something going for it, not that it stands the slightness chance of becoming law. The Government, and Whitehall in particular, simply wouldn’t countenance the development of select committees writing legislation.

Where it has real value is the pressure it will exert on a Prime Minister who stood on the steps of Downing Street and spoke of the insecurities facing working people.

The report of the Taylor Commission appeared in July. Five months on and there is still no sign of a response that was promised by the end of the year, amid very real fears that the Brexit process the May Government is botching could see it kicked into the long grass.

This report is very welcome inasmuch as it will make that very much harder.

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