A long-awaited review of the rights of gig economy workers – who are freelance or have temporary contracts and work irregular hours – is facing a union backlash.
The findings of the Government-commissioned report, which were widely leaked in advance, calls for additional protections for those employed by the likes of Uber and Deliveroo amid claims they are exploited.
The review, led by the head of the Royal Society of Arts, Matthew Taylor, recommends a new category of worker called a “dependent contractor” be created to bolster rights to sick pay and holiday pay.
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But he stops short of demanding a blanket minimum wage – instead calling for two-way flexibility on the issue of pay, with companies having to pay at least the minimum wage in exchange for a contractor working during busy periods.
Mr Taylor says the way forward should be guided by seven “principles for fair and decent work”, including stronger incentives for firms to treat workers fairly through a new social contract.
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“Bad work – insecure, exploitative, controlling – is bad for health and wellbeing, something that generates cost for vulnerable individuals, but also for wider society.
“Improving the quality of work should be an important part of our productivity strategy,” he said.
But his proposals were met with a sceptical response from human rights lawyers and unions.
They have long dismissed the argument, put forward by digital gig firms, that such companies are currently prevented from offering things like sick pay because those who work for them are self-employed.
The general secretary of the TUC union organisation, Frances O’Grady, said: “I worry that many gig economy employers will be breathing a sigh of relief this morning.
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“From what we’ve seen, this review is not the game-changer needed to end insecurity and exploitation at work.
“We’d welcome any nuggets of good news, but it doesn’t look like the report will shift the balance of power in the modern workplace.”
Thompsons Solicitors’ chief executive Stephen Cavalier said the report’s recommendations were “feeble and add another layer of unnecessary complexity”.
“The creation of a new ‘dependent contractor’ status for gig economy workers would further complicate existing categories of how workers are defined in law.”
Companies were yet to respond to the report but Neil Carberry, managing director for people and infrastructure at the CBI business lobby group, said: “It’s absolutely right to focus on what makes for good work, and firms of all shapes and sizes will find much to agree with in the seven principles of decency and fairness.
“The key now is to find practical ways to deliver both fairness and flexibility, with a focus on employee relations, not just legal reform.”
The report was commissioned by the Prime Minister in her first days in office.
She is expected to tell the review’s launch event that the Government will act “to ensure that the interests of employees on traditional contracts, the self-employed and those people working in the gig economy are all properly protected”.
But she is also expected to temper her remarks by pledging flexibility in the workplace should be maintained and “overbearing regulation” will be avoided.