06 April 2017
The Work and Pensions Committee, which is currently investigating self employment in the context of the ‘gig economy’, has released evidence to suggest companies are deliberately dissuading people from contesting their employment status.
Uber, Hermes, Deliveroo and Amazon were all asked to submit the contracts they provide to their so-called “self-employed” fleets for review, and the Committee found most of these firms included clauses designed to prevent workers from going to tribunal.
The most striking example was found in the Deliveroo contract, which explicitly asked delivery riders to agree they are not “workers” and to not challenge their employment status at tribunal. During his oral evidence session, Managing Director of Deliveroo Dan Warnes promised to remove this clause.
But other companies are playing similar tricks. The Committee found that Section 13 of the Uber contract had a similar function, as did Section 2 of the Amazon contract. However, neither go as far as Deliveroo.
“Quite frankly the Uber contract is gibberish,” Committee Chair Frank Fields said. “They are well aware that many, if not most, of their drivers speak English as a second language – they recently lost a court case trying to escape TfL’s new English testing rules for private hire drivers – yet their contract is almost unintelligible.
“And it, like Deliveroo’s, contains this egregious clause about not challenging the official designation of “self-employed”, when the way they work looks in most ways an awful lot like being employed.
“These companies parade the “flexibility” their model offers to drivers but it seems the only real flexibility is enjoyed by the companies themselves. It does seem a marvellous business model if you can get away with it.”
The Institute of Employment Rights argues that the increasing exploitation of migrant and gig workers has arisen from overly complex labour law, poor enforcement, barriers to access to justice, and the degradation of trade union rights.
At the moment, the enforcement of labour law relies entirely on workers taking their employers to tribunal, and since 2013 workers have had to pay up to £1,200 to have a hearing. What’s more, separate definitions of “worker” and “employee”, with fewer rights available for workers, is allowing companies to avoid employment law.
In our Manifesto for Labour Law, we call for a universal definition of “worker” to be established for all people in employment, which provides for the full suite of workers’ rights from Day One.
What’s more, we argue that an independent Labour Inspectorate should be set up to enforce the law and collective agreements, with the power to issue cease and desist notices to employers that break the rules. Where disputes cannot be resolved in-house, we call for tribunals to be free at the point of use.
Importantly, these proposals are underpinned by our overarching recommendation that the focus of labour law shifts from statutory minimums to collectively bargained pay and conditions at both sectoral and enterprise levels. By repealing anti-trade union legislation and promoting unionisation, workers can collectively organise to negotiate for fair pay, conditions and training, thereby resisting exploitation and the UK’s widening income gap.