'Precarious work in a so-called gig economy has trapped millions of people across the UK'
The negative impact of insecure work and the gig economy is well known, says Stephanie Peacock MP, and it is time for our laws to reflect that.
We are living through a time of unprecedented change but for too many, that change is taking us not forward but back to a time when people struggled to get by and were left powerless over their own lives.
The workplace is in the front line of that change, with the so-called gig economy leaving many stuck in precarious work with all that means for their lives.
Unscrupulous employers have adopted the mantra of flexibility to impose practices like zero-hour contracts, permanent ‘agency’ work and bogus self-employment.
The result is a staggering number of people in short-term, insecure employment; often low-paid and denied basic workplace protections.
Though difficult to measure, it’s estimated around 1 in 3 workers are in insecure work.
This includes over 900,000 workers on zero-hour contracts, for instance, over 800,000 agency workers, 1.5 million in temporary work, and 2.6 million underemployed, wanting to work more paid hours than are offered.
This goes far beyond genuine short-term work - meeting seasonal demand over the Christmas rush in retail, or the busy summer period at a caravan park.
The consequence is that the balance of power is woefully skewed in favour of employers who can use short-term contracts to maximise their own profits at their employees’ expense.
Zero-hour contracts mean bosses aren’t even obliged to offer any working hours to their employees. Workers aren’t guaranteed an income. Rotas change at the last minute. Shifts are cancelled. Employees are told last second, sometimes by text, often too late to amend costly transport or childcare arrangements.
Temporary agency workers are used long-term in place of permanent staff, allowing employers to take advantage of legal loopholes to avoid paying them the same wage as the permanent colleagues they work alongside, or provide the same rights and employment protections. Some are used in the same role for years, before being summarily sacked without recourse.
Bogus self-employment in the gig economy allows big companies to dictate pay and conditions to workers but claim they are independent contractors and conveniently absolve themselves of any responsibility towards them.
The result is that the experience of being trapped in a low-paid job, with no guaranteed hours, wages, or security of employment, unable to plan past this week’s rota or pay cheque, with fewer rights and lower pay than your colleagues, is all too familiar for people across the country.
It’s just not good enough.
This impact of insecure work and the gig economy is well known; it’s little over a year since Theresa May, humbled at the recent election, stood on the steps of Downing Street and acknowledged those who ‘have a job, but don’t always have job security’.
But her subsequent record suggests these words were little more than an empty gesture.
The Government have kicked the recommendations of their own Taylor Review into the long grass.
They failed to support my own Private Members Bill, which sought to close the loopholes employers use to exploit agency workers.
A succession of recent legal cases against gig-economy employers like Uber and Pimlico Plumbers by individual workers have found them to be employees, entitled to better pay and workplace rights.
Yet the Government chooses to sit on its hands and avoid the implications of these legal judgements.
How much longer can they be marked down as test cases, rather than triggering wider action?
Must we wait for every single individual worker to undertake judicial proceedings against their employers to assert their basic rights?
I believe it is time for Government, and Parliament, to act instead. The law needs to change, and be enforced.
Precarious work in a so-called gig economy has trapped millions of people across the UK.
It’s time we tackled dodgy employers who make their money through exploitation, and ensure hard-working people are given the pay, rights and security they deserve.
IPSE's policy development manager, Jordan Marshall, said: "We must crack down where there is exploitation, but regulating the gig economy out of existence would hurt far more people that it would help." Read the full response here.