17 March 2017
The much-relied upon justification for a “flexible” workforce and the encroaching gig economy is that it provides flexibility not only for the employer by for the worker – in essence, that workers want the gig economy – but new research has revealed that almost two-thirds want stronger workers’ rights.
Around 1.3 million people are now taking “gig” work, and 63% of them want the government to legislate in order to give them stronger workers’ rights, the study from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) showed.
In the survey of 400 gig economy workers, one in four said that they relied on gig work as their main job and 57% agreed that firms were exploitation a lack of regulation to boost their own profits.
Just over a third – 35% – disagreed that the gig economy should remain unregulated at the expense of lower income and job security for workers.
As many as 60% said they do not get enough work on a regular basis and reported incomes were low, at just £6 to £7.70 per hour. The minimum wage is £7.20 per hour.
Only 38% of the so-called “self-employed” workers actually felt they were their own boss. Most had concerns over how much control was exerted over them by the companies they took on jobs for.
Peter Cheese, Chief Executive of the CIPD, said: “Our research suggests that some gig economy businesses may be seeking to have their cake and eat it by using self-employed contractors to cut costs, while at the same time trying to maintain a level of control over people that is more appropriate for a more traditional employment relationship. Many people in the gig economy may already be eligible for basic employment rights, but are confused by the issue of their employment status.”
The CIPD called for a review into employment status and better enforcement of existing employment law.
Indeed, the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) is calling for a universal definition of “worker” that provides all people in employment with the full suite of workers’ rights from day one, and for an independent Labour Inspectorate to be established to ensure employers adhere to labour law and collective agreements.
However, while the CIPD welcomed the Taylor Review and campaigns to raise workers’ awareness of their rights, the IER cautions that focusing on individual workers’ ability to fight back against employers who do not follow the law is bound to fail. Even if an agency worker or worker self-classified as “self employed” were to take their employer to task over breaches to their rights, the power still lies in the hands of the employer to dismiss workers who complain, access to employment tribunals as been limited by the introduction of costly fees, and workers do not have access to the legal expertise and resources employers do in order to properly understand and enforce their own rights. Instead, the onus should be on employers to ensure they are following the law, rather than on workers to ensure the law is enforced. Collectively organising in trade unions should also be promoted to provide workers with the leverage that equalises the power dynamic between employers and staff. The government should promote collective bargaining for pay and conditions at sectoral and enterprise levels to ensure fair pay for a day’s work and reduce inequality.
These are among the 25 recommendations we make in our Manifesto for Labour Law, the principles of which have been adopted by the Labour Party.