What next for the gig economy?
It has been clear for some time that the rapidly changing face of modern business has highlighted the gaps in employment protection faced by many of those engaged in it. The existing system simply isn’t working for everyone.
The Government was taking steps to address the issue having commissioned an independent review of employment practices chaired by Matthew Taylor in 2017. Various consultations followed this review in 2018, and the Good Work Plan was published in December 2018. Whilst this was hailed as the “largest upgrade in a generation to workplace rights”, little progressed last year during the pandemic and there are no signs of imminent action on key proposals
The aim of the Good Work Plan had been to redress one-sided flexibility, take into account new business models and technological advances and provide clarity for workers and employers. Good Work received a lot of press interest primarily because of the high profile “gig” economy employment status cases involving companies such as Uber, Deliveroo and Addison Lee and also the abuse by some employers of zero hours contracts.
Proposals include aligning the employment status test for employment rights and tax, and the ability to request a “more predictable and stable” contract after 26 weeks. One aspect that was progressed last year was the extension of the right to a written statement of terms to all workers (not just employees) which was introduced in April2020.
Although the Government states that Good Work takes forward 51 out of the 53 recommendations made by the Taylor Review there is still much which needs to be fleshed out. The Government recognises, for example, that it will not be simple to draft legislation clarifying employment status. It is also not clear how the right to request a predictable and stable contract will work in practice, and it appears to be a right to request (perhaps similar to the right to request flexible working) rather than a right to have a stable contract. As ever, the devil will be in the detail.
The Supreme Court has now arguably taken steps to progress the Good Work agenda. In its’ judgement in the Uber case it made clear that legislation that is designed to protect workers should be interpreted with that in mind. The courts will not look favourably on employers trying to circumvent basic rights through contractual wording.