In November of last year, I shared my thoughts on the UK’s “gig economy”. That article was largely in light of the “Uber decision”, in which an English employment tribunal decided that Uber have to grant basic employment rights to their supposed “self-employed contractor” drivers. The case demonstrated the very real possibility that “self-employed contractors” in the new gig economy may well qualify as “workers” within the meaning of the relevant legislation.
Whilst Uber’s appeal of that tribunal decision will be heard in September of this year, we have in the meantime seen action from the UK Government in an attempt to proactively resolve a looming headache which threatens to affect dozens of well-known businesses – and tens of thousands of individuals making ends meet through engaging in this style of work.
“Human beings, not cogs in a machine”
The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices, commissioned by the government and led by Matthew Taylor, published its recommendations just last week. Ahead of the report’s publication, Mr Taylor said the ultimate aim of the review is “for all work to be fair and decent.” He added that “workers should be treated like human beings, not cogs in a machine.”
So, what are the key recommendations?
Aside from offering a more general commentary on the development of skills, healthy workplaces and the positive impact of the National Living Wage, the report has gone some way in attempting to solve the “Uber problem” for fixed-platform workers. The solution, the report says, is to create a new class of labour to move with the times; that of the “dependent contractor”. Whilst the report encourages those who prefer and benefit from flexible working (whether that’s with Deliveroo, Hermes or indeed Uber) to continue to do so, it says that those individuals must be granted fairness at work.
The report advises that we need to see a greater emphasis on the control exerted over dependent contractors by those who engage them. Interestingly, it also recommends that access to justice is made easier for those who wish to challenge the status afforded to them (although this is less of a concern in Northern Ireland, where tribunal fees don’t apply as in Great Britain). Perhaps more fundamentally, the report suggests that a written statement of terms should be provided to both employees and this new class of dependent contractors from the first day on the job. The Taylor Review has also concluded that these dependent contractors of the future must also benefit from National Minimum Wage protection.
Whilst the report’s contents are only recommendations to the government at this stage, it’s likely that at least some of the key recommendations will come to fruition. As a result, all businesses engaging contractors of any kind will need to be alert to the seemingly inevitable changes which are in the pipeline.
John Kelly is a Solicitor in Worthingtons Commercial Solicitors, Belfast, where she specialises in Employment Law and can be contacted on 028 9043 4015