Well, I got that one wrong!
Uber employment status
For those of you who read my previous blog about Uber Employment Status (Uber the Employment Rainbow), you will recall I thought that the Uber taxi drivers would be considered self-employed and not workers. This was on the basis that fundamentally there is not much difference between the Uber drivers and other black-cab drivers – other than the cost of the fare and the amount of money they make.
In its wisdom, though, the employment tribunal decided that because Uber had significant control over their drivers’ actions, the idea that the drivers were running a business, having contracts with each passenger, was a “pure fiction”.
There is no need to go into all the minutiae of the judgment. Uber immediately indicated that it would appeal, and given the GMB backing to the drivers’ case you can bet this will probably go all the way to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, Deliveroo drivers have launched a similar case, and Amazon is getting it in the neck with their driver contracts. This is a big deal.
The “deal” is about the way we regulate work in the age of internet platforms and the relentless rise of self-employment generally (be it imposed or voluntary). What it comes down to is the tension between everyone’s desire for low-cost consumer convenience on the one hand and workers’ rights and pay on the other.
This is not a new dilemma, but the rise of the “gig” economy (platform-based self-employment) could potentially affect many more workers previously unaffected by, say, outsourcing or agency working.
Although some undoubtedly do very well out of the gig economy (Airbnb lets springs to mind), there is no doubt that a certain portion of gig workers earn little more than a pittance with no protection; you try living on less than minimum wage with no holiday pay, sick pay or the right to a pension.
Is this really what we are prepared to accept for the sake of next day delivery? Do we care as little for UK workers at the sharp end of servicing our convenience, as we seem to care for Asian factory workers producing cheap clothes?
What I did get right is that ultimately these matters are not for judges to decide, but for our esteemed elected politicians. Right on cue, I’m pleased to say that they (the politicians) were listening: the Commons Select Committee on Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has just launched an inquiry into the rapidly changing nature of work, the status and rights of agency workers, the self-employed, and those working in the ‘gig economy’.
Among the issues it has set itself to review, the Inquiry will consider the level of Government support for the self-employed and for employees, eg over statutory sick pay, holiday pay, employee pensions, and maternity pay.
The trick will be to devise a system that does not compromise the advantages of the internet-based economy, yet ensures that people delivering the services are not exploited – whether they be categorised as self-employed or not. Not easy, admittedly, but is this not exactly the kind of issue we pay our politicians to deal with?
We will see whether anything significant comes from Parliament. In the meantime, there is plenty of scope for the judges to disagree as the cases wind their way through the courts. This story has only just begun. If you need guidance on the status of your staff / employees / contractors …… contact us for advice
(c) Thornber HR Law