New report shows 'gig economy' putting workers' rights at risk

By agency reporter
December 17, 2016

 One in 10 UK workers (3.2 million) are now in precarious work – and the number of workers at risk of missing out on key employment protections has nearly doubled in a decade to 1.5 million (an increase of 700,000), according to a new Trades Union Congress (TUC) report.

The report – Living on the edge – shows that 1.5 million people now risk missing out on protection from unfair dismissal and the right to redundancy pay (even if they have worked two years or more for an employer). And nearly half a million (485,000) have no legal right to sick pay due to low pay.

Living on the edge also reveals that the pay penalty for some forms of precarious working has got worse over the last decade:

  • Zero-hours workers now earn £3.80 less an hour than the average employee – a third less (34 per cent), compared to 26 per cent less in 2006. Hourly pay for zero-hours workers has increased by just 67p in the last decade
  • Self-employed workers now have earnings 40 per cent lower than those of employees, compared to 28 per cent lower a decade ago.  One in three (34 per cent) self-employed households earn less than £200 a week – over 1.2 million families.
  • Casual workers still get paid nearly 40 per cent less an hour than the average worker – no improvement on a decade ago.

Living on the edge calls on Matthew Taylor’s independent review of employment practices to strengthen legal protections for precarious workers.

The TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Insecure work has exploded in the past decade. In far too many cases, the only people who’ve benefitted are bad bosses. Sports Direct can’t be the employment model for the 2020s.

“Gig economy workers face the double hit of poverty wages and weaker employment rights. Whether they’re waiting tables or driving for Uber, all workers deserve respect, fair pay and basic protections. But the law hasn’t kept pace with how work has changed.  That’s why the Taylor review must drag the rules that protect working people into the 21st century.

“Every day, unions expose the worst excesses of the gig economy and win important victories for workers across the country – just look at what we’re doing at Sports Direct and Uber. Any serious attempt to crack down on precarious jobs has to have trade unionism at its heart.”

Sophie Shaw, a waitress and union member who has worked in precarious jobs for eight years, said: “Zero-hours contracts can feel like you have zero rights too. If you get sick when you should be working, you simply don’t get paid, and might even be considered unreliable by your manager.

“I’ve even seen a colleague continue working in the kitchen with a broken arm, because they couldn’t afford the time off.Making any sort of financial plan is impossible when you don’t have guaranteed hours and are on rubbish pay. It’s no way to live.”

 The TUC believes that the Taylor review of employment practices should examine the following areas:

1) Making sure everyone can access decent rights at work:

The TUC believes that existing rights should be available to all those in work, not only those who qualify for ‘employee’ status. This includes family friendly rights, protection from unfair dismissal and the right to redundancy pay.

2) Guarantee that self-employment is a choice made by the worker, not the employer:

Employers should not be able to ‘opt-out’ of their employment and tax responsibilities simply by labelling someone as self-employed.  The TUC wants all workers to qualify for all workplace rights unless the employer can demonstrate the individual is genuinely self-employed.

3) Secure protection for everyone when they cannot work.

All workers, including those on low pay should be entitled to statutory sick pay and policymakers should look at extending other forms of support such as paternity pay.

4) Ensure that workers can challenge bad employers in court

Tribunal fees should be abolished. Since introducing fees of up to £1,200, the number of employment tribunal cases has fallen by over 9,000 a month.

5) Strengthen workers’ ability to organise for better conditions at work
Expanding union presence in workplaces is a vital route to tackling insecurity. A good start would be to make it easier for all workers, including those in precarious jobs, to be able to talk to a union rep.  Unions should therefore have a right to access workplaces or to meet with staff during working hours.

* Read Living on the Edge here


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