Navigating the Gig Economy: Demands for Worker Protection Grow.

The gig economy has transformed the way we work, offering flexibility and opportunity for many individuals and businesses. However, it has also raised questions about the rights and protections afforded to self-employed workers, often referred to as ‘gig staff’. Recent legal developments, particularly the Supreme Court’s ruling regarding Deliveroo riders, have brought these concerns back under the spotlight.

The Supreme Court’s decision in the Uber v Aslam case in 2021 was a landmark moment for gig economy workers when the Court determined Uber drivers were ‘workers’ under employment law, entitling them to minimum wage, holiday pay, and protection against discrimination. The ruling was viewed as a significant victory for gig workers, providing them with a stronger foundation for asserting their rights.

However, the more recent Supreme Court decision regarding Deliveroo riders has cast fresh doubt on the ability of gig workers to collectively bargain for better pay and conditions. The Court ruled that Deliveroo riders were not considered ‘workers’ for collective bargaining, a decision that has been met with disappointment by unions and gig economy campaigners.

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) had tried to represent a group of Deliveroo riders to negotiate pay and conditions. Permission was first denied in 2017 and in April the IWGB took its case to the UK’s highest court in an attempt to overturn the initial judgement, but it was unanimously dismissed.

Despite these setbacks, there are encouraging signs that the UK government is committed to ensuring that gig workers have access to fair and reasonable rights. The government have published new guidance throughout 2023 aimed at updating employment law and the protections for workers, incorporating a range of issues, including the right to the national minimum wage, paid leave, and protection against unfair dismissal.

The government has also committed to introducing new legislation to improve the rights of gig workers. The Employment Bill, which is currently making its way through Parliament, includes provisions that would give gig workers access to a new category of employment rights, known as ‘worker plus’ rights. These rights would fall short of full worker status but would provide some additional protections, such as the entitlement to holiday pay and sick pay.

In a wider context, the EU has furthered negotiations on its Platform Workers’ Directive (PWD) aimed at clarifying the employment status of gig workers and the protections they are entitled to. This guidance covers three priority areas around the presumption of employment status, minimum protections, and the regulation of algorithmic management on digital labour platforms. If introduced, the legislation will impact many businesses operating in the UK and using or supplying contract workers on a volume basis.

While it’s encouraging to see progress, it’s important to continue striving for a balanced approach that allows workers to have flexibility in their work arrangements without being exploited. The government should continue to engage with gig workers and their representatives to develop a comprehensive framework of rights that reflects modern working practices.

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Authored by

Andrew Leaitherland
Andrew Leaitherland Founder and CEO
Although Andrew is an employment lawyer by training, over the last fifteen years he has built up extensive experience in leading M&A activity with professional services firms including leading the listing of DWF Group plc on the main market of the London Stock Exchange. Andrew uses these skills to advise strategically on inorganic growth opportunities for all types of professional services businesses, in conjunction with other members of arch who support on the necessary legal work. Andrew is also the Chair of The Legal Director and a NED of Summize which gives him great insight into how the respective businesses can collaborate to further the interests of our clients.

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