False freelancing and genuine self-employment under Parliamentary scrutiny

THE GIG economy came under Parliamentary scrutiny recently, with the publication of a joint report by the Work and Pensions Select Committee and the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy.

Entitled A Framework for Modern Employment, the report, published in November, was in response to the somewhat disappointing Taylor Review of the gig economy. The Committees' report noted "recent court cases" that "'have exposed a pattern of companies using bogus self-employed status as a route to cheap labour."

The report recommended that worker status be the default setting for "companies with substantial dependent workforces currently labelled as self-employed" as this would "better protect such workers." The "onus would be on the firm to prove self-employed status." But any such measures "must not place unnecessary burdens on genuine self-employment, which is a positive choice for many individuals".

There are also calls in A Framework for bigger fines at Industrial Tribunals against rogue employers who've already lost such cases; for class actions at Tribunals by groups of workers to be allowed; and for a lower minimum wage for employees on zero-hour contracts. (This last one would not affect freelances.)

How likely is any of this to make its way into legislation? Not very, it seems. The report ends with this plea: "As it seeks to negotiate the best possible Brexit deal, the Government must not allow addressing urgent issues in Britain's labour market to fall by the wayside."

  • Shortly before the Committee's report, a surprise judgement by the Central Arbitration Committee ruled that Deliveroo riders organised by the Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain did not have collective bargaining rights as they were "self-employed" - this after Deliveroo had issued new contracts saying that its riders could send a substitute in their place, one of the tests of whether a "worker" is self-employed or not. IWGB General Secretary Jason Moyer-Lee said: "a so-called gig economy company has found a way to game the system."