The government could bring economic security to millions of precarious workers by ending ‘bogus self-employment’ and declaring their employee status, Unite general secretary Len McCluskey said today (March 26).
Commenting in response to chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement of incomes assistance for self-employed workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, McCluskey said that while details of the scheme have yet to be forthcoming, the programme must be simple, straightforward and speedy to avert a collapse in the household incomes of millions.
He was making the call in relation to the millions of workers in UK workplaces who work alongside the directly employed doing more or less the same work, but who have been falsely declared self-employed in order to deprive them of access to sick pay, paid holidays and other rights.
McCluskey said, “We are pleased to note the government’s intention to give the self-employed the same economic security during these worrying times as the directly employed. We look forward to seeing the details so that we can examine this in terms of our self-employed members, from cabbies to carers.
“But by far the most effective way to give many of these workers the economic security that they need is to end the abusive status that is bogus self-employment. Ministers can do that at the stroke of a pen, declaring these workers employees and so bringing them into the furlough scheme; where they can access up to 80 per cent of their incomes. The government could do this easily, by statutory instrument possibly, and I am sure would attract cross-party support for doing so.
“Thousands of construction workers, delivery drivers and warehouse workers are not actually self-employed but have been told to declare themselves so by their ’employers’. These workers and millions of others teeter on the edge of financial collapse. They desperately needed to hear today that a simple, straightforward and speedy to access package of support is heading their way,” he added.
“Self-employed workers must have no delay in receiving funds – this will force them to conclude that they have to still go to work, putting themselves and others at risk.
“The fact that cash will not get to those workers who do qualify for assistance until June is alarming. The promise of money in weeks to come doesn’t pay the rent or put food on the table in April and May.
“We also need the chancellor to do more to compel employers to access the jobs retention scheme. This scheme is a radical departure for this country, but it is in danger of not delivering on its promise because employers will not use it, opting instead to send workers home to live off poverty sick pay.
“Unite has said that it will pull every lever available to compel employers to use the scheme, including legal action if needs be. But government urgently needs to set out to business why using the scheme is the most effective and responsible way of playing their part to avert collective economic disaster.”