The ongoing status of workers in the gig economy

December 19, 2017

The gig economy tends to refer to people using apps to sell their labour. The most commonly used examples are Uber and Deliveroo, but there are a growing number of platforms facilitating working in this way.

The self-employed status of most workers in the gig economy means flexibility, especially for businesses, but there have been a number of claims brought by workers seeking worker status – which would mean entitlement to such rights as holiday pay, the minimum wage and pension contributions. However, recent decisions have caused further confusion and uncertainty.

Deliveroo riders – An individual can have almost every aspect of their work controlled by a business and still not be considered to be a worker if there exists a genuine right to substitution. This was the basis of the decision involving riders for Deliveroo. The Central Arbitration Committee found that riders were self-employed because of their freedom to substitute other riders for a job.

Uber drivers – In contrast, taxi-hailing app firm Uber lost an appeal against a ruling that its drivers should be treated as workers rather than self-employed. The Employment Tribunal upheld its original decision that any Uber driver who had the Uber app switched on was working for the company as a worker and should therefore be entitled to workers’ rights. Uber intends to continue with its appeal.

The essential difference between the two decisions is that once Uber drivers are logged into the Uber app, they are essentially obliged to accept any work that is offered to them. In contrast, the contract of a Deliveroo rider contains the right to use a substitute rider to carry out an order – and this right is genuinely used without any objection from Deliveroo.

The government’s plans to introduce legislation on modern working practices have been delayed until 2018, although a draft bill has been prepared. This argues that there should be a new “worker by default” status, with the change putting the onus on companies to prove self-employed status, rather than forcing workers to seek this via the courts.

The ongoing status of workers in the gig economy

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