The Gig Economy

Depending on how exciting your usual reading material is you may have come across a lot of excitement being generated about the so-called ‘gig economy’.

This is the idea that permanent jobs are old-fashioned relics of a previous age and that work in the future will consist of a constantly changing series of ‘pick and mix’ temporary engagements, often several at a time.

The idea is that rather than having a job, people have a series of contracts under which they as self-employed people agree to provide services and are paid for those services. We will take control of our work, choosing which engagements to accept and for whom and in what field. Finally, we will be free to engage in wedding photography and tax accounting; scuba-diving in the Seychelles one month and writing wills the next!

This is all well and good but the reality is that many of these ‘gig-economy’ jobs are not the glamorous free-lance photographer/political blogger/journalist/international man of mystery type but rather more mundane delivery drivers, retail workers, etc. They are often solely dependent on one ‘gig’ to earn a living.

This has lead to concerns that the people working under these arrangements need but don’t get protection to ensure they receive a fair wage or take time off.

The self-employed do not get access to a number of rights and protections that employees do. They do not even get the significantly lower level of rights and protections granted to the rather strange category of ‘workers’.

A ‘worker’ in English employment law is a person who either works under a contract of employment or works under any other contract in which they agree  to personally perform any work or services for another party to the contract who is not a client or customer of any profession or business undertaking carried on by the individual.

If that definition doesn’t immediately make everything clear to you, don’t worry. The important thing to remember is that all employees are workers, not all workers are employees. If you are not employed, self-employed or unemployed, you are probably a worker.

Employees are entitled to the full array of employment rights such as the right not to be unfairly dismissed, maternity pay, redundancy pay, etc.

Workers are entitled to a lower level of protection including such matters as minimum wage, right to paid leave, the possibility to contribute to a workplace pension,  etc.

The self-employed are entitled to none of this and are expected to make their own arrangements within the terms of the contracts with whoever they provide their services to.

One of the largest businesses spoken of as being part of this ‘gig economy’ is Uber. Uber has always argued that it is not in the business of arranging passenger transport. Instead it says it just provides a platform which puts people who want to go somewhere together with people who are prepared to take them there.

The Uber drivers supposedly are self-employed and therefore entitled to none of the protections available for employees or workers. A number of Uber drivers however consider that the practical terms under which Uber requires them to operate are such that they are not truly self-employed and instead fall into at least the category of ‘worker’.

Their claims have recently been decided in the Employment Tribunal and in a very emphatic judgment the Employment Tribunal held that the drivers are ‘workers’ under UK employment law.

This means amongst other things that they would be entitled to receive at least the statutory minimum wage for the hours they spend in their ‘Territory’, logged on to the Uber app and either waiting for fares or actually driving and are covered by the Working Time regulations.

This is of course a first instance decision and is almost certain to be appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, quite possibly with numerous side trips to Europe along the way.

Certainly quite a few more ‘gigs’ for the barristers involved!

If you need advice on employment status or any other employment law issue, please contact us on 01227 813400.

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