It has chosen to consult when it should be legislatingby Frank Field / February 9, 2018 / Leave a comment
Last year, Matthew Taylor published his review of modern working practices. This review was established by the prime minister following the report my colleague Andrew Forsey and I submitted to her, titled “Wild West Workplace: self-employment and the gig economy.”
This week the government finally responded. Its new commitments will deliver real gains for a large number of casual workers when it comes to holiday and sick pay rights.
Regrettably it still leaves unanswered a series of crunch questions around the living standards of workers in the gig economy. But two documents—one published alongside the government’s response, another buried deep within it—are of huge significance. These papers hold the key to the future of the labour market and protecting its weak underbelly.
The first is an official survey of the earnings and characteristics of the 2.8m people who have worked in the gig economy over the past year. This is the first of its kind and shines the brightest light yet on this large and growing section of the workforce.
Its findings should send shockwaves through the government. For we now know that the gig economy is the single largest force undermining the cornerstone of the government’s labour market policy, the National Living Wage. 700,000 people working in the gig economy over the past year were paid less than the legal minimum because they are labelled “self-employed” by the companies for whom they work. By labelling their workforce in this way, companies are free to offload to individual workers all of the risks and responsibilities usually taken on by employers.
The survey shows that for certain groups of workers the gig economy does also offer the flexibility and freedom that is associated with genuine forms of self-employment. It is those groups who are most likely to be using the gig economy as a means of supplementing other sources of income.
However, the survey shows also that several hundred thousand workers rely on the gig economy for work on a daily basis, as the main source of their income.
They are the ones, based on the hundreds of submissions Andrew and I have received from drivers and couriers over the past 18 months, who are most likely to be trapped in a form of self-employment that is…