There have been many important decisions regarding workers’ rights in the gig economy recently. Amongst those decisions are the following companies: Pimlico Plumbers, Uber and eCourier. There is currently an appeal being prepared regarding a decision involving Deliveroo. The appeal itself is using the Judicial Review procedure; it is being argued that a ban on collective bargaining by Deliveroo couriers is a breach of their human rights. Further, Newell Legal has also covered the recent ‘Gig Economy Inquiry’ and provided a descriptive piece on what exactly self-employment is from a legal perspective.
The most recent decision concerns the private hire taxi company, Addison Lee. In this case, the most recent ruling from the Employment Tribunal (ET), Addison Lee drives are seen to be workers as opposed to being self-employed. This decision is clearly the latest of multiple court rulings regarding individuals working in the gig economy. In almost all these cases, the individuals have been wrongly classed as ‘self-employed’ and should be considered workers. The distinction between the two is of critical importance. A ruling that these individuals are ‘workers’ enables them to enjoy rights to the national minimum wage and holiday pay. The ruling could stand to have an impact on thousands of Addison Lee's drivers, which appears to be positive news. Despite the detrimental judgment, Addison Lee has hinted that it may appeal and said it was carefully reviewing the decision. Whilst this remains to be seen, it could represent an important development should the matter be escalated to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) and even further from there.
One questions how long such a controversial topic will remain untouched in terms of legislation. In 2017, the Taylor Review explored conventional working routines and attempted to analyse practices of self-employment. One fundamental issue with this report, however, is that it completely overlooks what equates to self-employment. (https://www.theguardian.com/law/2017/jul/12/matthew-taylor-overlooks-the-big-issue-clarifying-self-employment-review-modern-working-practices). This is even more concerning when one considers the explicit reference the report makes to the lack of a statutory definition of ‘self-employment’. Despite the issues with the Taylor report, it did make 53 recommendations to the government. Unfortunately, many were rejected in response by the majority of Conservative MPs. Although, it does appear that some of these recommendations have been revived by Theresa May recently. These recommendations have been subject to further debate but have not been implemented as of yet.
More recently, there has been an inquiry into the gig economy, which was led by MP and head of the DWP, Frank Field. The potential implications of the inquiry included a fundamental change to the law in the employment sphere which would better protect the rights of those involved in the gig economy. Thankfully, the government appears to have acknowledged some of these points. Recently, it was announced that the rights of workers in the gig economy were to receive increased protection. Within the proposed legislation, the government will attempt to clarify the criteria that determines whether individuals are ‘workers’ or ‘self-employed’. This is to be done by aligning tax and employment law. In turn, it will give workers in the gig economy the right to request a temporary or fixed-hours contract after 12 months. Whilst these proposals do not create perfect legal protection, they are a significant improvement on the current regime.
As highlighted above, the abuse of this grey area is detrimental to individuals who are stripped of many rights they would otherwise have in any other relationship of employment. The expense individuals suffer permits the commercial entities they work for to make significant economic gain. From a more general view, this recent ET decision is another strong reminder that in some way, the government will need to intervene to address the issue around misclassification of workers as being ‘self-employed’. The format of the changes the government intends to make, particularly in terms of legislation, remains to be seen. Despite this uncertainty, it is a welcome development which would safeguard workers from being put in vulnerable positions by large commercial entities.