The Tories could learn from the EU when it comes to protecting those in low-paid work and the gig economy

'The European Commission is proposing new laws to protect ‘digital platform’ and precarious workers.'

gig economy

Tony Burke is Assistant General Secretary at Unite and Chair of the Campaign for Trade Union Freedom

The European Commission is proposing new laws to protect ‘digital platform’ and precarious workers.

Digital platform workers including those working for ride hailing companies such Uber and delivery firms such as Deliveroo would be required to reclassify their contracted drivers as employees.

The Commission estimates the rules could affect between 1.7 and 4.1 million people.

The proposals, would open companies up to fines from governments and compensation claims from workers, and could net up to €4 billion ($4.5 billion) every year in additional tax receipts for EU member states, the Commission estimates.

Nicolas Schmit, EU Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights said: “We must make the most of the job creating potential of digital platforms but we should also make sure that they are quality jobs, that don’t promote precariousness, so people working through them have security and can plan for their future.”

Workers who currently have ‘self-employed status’ will be treated as employees if any of the following criteria are met:

The company sets their pay, issues rules on appearance and conduct, limits their ability to choose tasks and working hours, supervises their work electronically, and bars them from working for third parties.

Importantly the burden of proof would be on companies — not workers — to show the criteria have not been met.

Now outside the EU following Brexit, Labour and trade unions will have to argue for the new laws to be transposed into UK law under the level playing field provisions of the Brexit (TAC) agreement. We can expect companies to resist such pressure.

Earlier this year, Lord John Hendy QC introduced a private members bill to give all workers single status as employees, which was backed by the TUC and Labour has pledged to introduce single status, with Andy McDonald’s ‘New Deal For Workers’ endorsed at this years Labour Party Conference.

The TUC’s Tim Sharpe said: “This is a government that came to office following Brexit saying they would protect and enhance workers’ rights. I think if workers in the European Union are seen to be gaining rights and having power, then workers here would expect the same.”

But the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial strategy said: “The UK has one of the best records on workers’ rights in the world – going further than the EU in many areas – and we believe the UK’s current employment status framework strikes the right balance between the flexibility our economy needs and protections for workers.”

In 2019 the Tory manifesto promised in its manifesto to introduce “measures to protect those in low-paid work and the gig economy”, which was expanded in the Queen’s speech in the same year with a pledge to bring forward an employment bill that would “protect and enhance workers’ rights as the UK leaves the EU, making Britain the best place in the world to work”.

Two years on and not surprisingly there is no sign of any employment bill from the Government.

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