The gig economy has more than doubled during the last three years, according to a new report that exposes Britain’s growing reliance on insecure work.
Unite has led calls for reform to prevent exploitation in the gig economy and has set up a special legal unit focusing on bogus self-employment, which is closely linked to the issue.
Nearly one in ten working age adults now work in the gig economy – an increase from around one in 20 in 2016, the TUC-backed study found.
The report, authored by academics from the University of Hertfordshire, warns that employment rights are lagging behind technological developments in the labour market typified by digital work platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo.
The gig economy – defined as “a labour market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work, as opposed to permanent jobs” – has resulted in many workers being falsely classified as self-employed in low paid roles where they are denied basic working rights.
Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner said, “For many of these workers eking out a living in the gig economy, it’s a world of insecure work and casualised labour.
“But instead of a tap on the shoulder or the brass tally of the docks from decades ago, workers are left waiting for a text or the beep of an app to know if they have work.
“We cannot turn the clock back to the Victorian era, the government needs to put a floor underneath all workers’ rights. Otherwise living standards will fall and peoples’ working lives become increasingly insecure.”
Unite has been at the forefront of efforts to introduce tougher legislation to tackle exploitation in the gig economy, however government action over the issue has been almost non-existent.
In 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May endorsed the Taylor Review into the gig economy – which Unite said “spectacularly failed” to deliver any meaningful protection for workers – insisting “overbearing regulation” to prevent the exploitation of those in insecure work would not benefit the economy.
In an effort to the tackle the bogus self-employment central to gig economy abuses, Unite established a special legal unit in 2016, following a landmark tribunal which ruled Uber drivers were workers rather than self-employed.
The ruling paved the way for similar cases involving self-employment, with the unit set up to support Unite members in all sectors from construction to the gig economy.
Pipe fitter Russ Blakely, who last year became the first person to win a bogus self-employment case at tribunal with the unit’s support, said, “Unite is setting the stall out for how workers should be treated in 21st Century Britain and trying to roll back some of the injustices that are plaguing workers in this country today.”