Anyone that’s even glanced at the news lately will know that the “gig economy” is a pretty hot topic at the moment. Though I’m sure it won’t be the final word on the matter, the recently published Taylor review has confirmed that the flexible employment market is here to stay, and therefore, figuring out how it is managed has to be a priority.
These things don’t just happen by accident, clearly both employees and employers value the benefits this new way of working brings. What is clearly not acceptable is using this new situation as a means of exploiting workers. Employers mustn’t be allowed to treat their “gig workers” less favourably than the rest, nor should they be able to avoid paying National Insurance contributions or fulfilling Auto Enrolment obligations through clever arrangements. An employee is an employee, and should be treated as such: that means entitlement to holiday pay, sick pay, and whatever protection they might need on the job.
In the defence of the employers here, it makes perfect sense that an individual who might work for a number of organisations, who provides a unique service, determines their own hours, and procures their own equipment be employed under appropriately different contractual arrangements. That is the definition of a freelancer, but do all of these points apply to a taxi or delivery driver? No, they don’t, because they aren’t freelancers, they’re employees and that’s how they need to be defined. I should also mention here that they definitely still deserve more than the national minimum wage, given the work they do.
Whichever direction this debate goes from here, I hope we can all acknowledge that the rights of these workers need to improve somehow, but without endangering the flexibility that made their work so attractive to them in the first place.