Emma Lewell-Buck: The ‘gig economy’ - work doesn’t pay

FILE - In this file photo taken Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014, a woman walks past the company logo of the internet car service, Uber, in San Francisco, USA. Uber�"s chief executive ordered an urgent investigation Monday Feb. 20, 2017, into a sexual harassment claim made by a female engineer who alleged her prospects at the company evaporated after she complained about advances from her boss.  (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, FILE)
FILE - In this file photo taken Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014, a woman walks past the company logo of the internet car service, Uber, in San Francisco, USA. Uber�"s chief executive ordered an urgent investigation Monday Feb. 20, 2017, into a sexual harassment claim made by a female engineer who alleged her prospects at the company evaporated after she complained about advances from her boss. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, FILE)

It used to be the case that if you did a decent day’s work you got a decent day’s pay. Over recent years this has not been the case for the 3.2 million people in the UK who work flexible hours, on short-term or freelance contracts without the rights of permanent employees.

Hundreds of thousands of workers have reported that they have been fined hundreds of pounds by their employers unless they forced themselves to work whilst ill, where others have ended up earning as little as £2.22 an hour or indeed have even lost money.

Some employees have been made to sign contracts of employment forbidding them from challenging their employment status.

Poverty pay and unacceptable treatment handed out to some workers by unscrupulous employers generating huge profits while avoiding tax is inevitable in the absence of statutory minimum standards.

It was against this backdrop that the Government, after overseeing seven long years of worker exploitation, asked Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the Royal Society of Arts, to lead a review into employment practices.

One of the four key members of his review was an early investor in Deliveroo, one of the most notorious “gig” employers.

The review suggests relabelling “workers” – an employment category that sits between self-employed contractors and full employees – as “dependent contractors”

It also recommends that firms which control and supervise their workers should pay a range of benefits to them and will present the first test to the Tories’ manifesto pledge to make sure that people working in the ‘gig’ economy would be properly protected.

The review simply does not tackle the problems being faced by people. Thompsons Solicitors – a firm that specialises in workers’ rights – has described Taylor’s review as “feeble”.

Alarmingly, the review could even weaken workers’ rights. The Trades Union Congress fears that the revival of piece rates could potentially mean, say, an Uber or Deliveroo driver stuck in traffic could be “paid less for not completing their set quota of jobs.

And it did nothing to address the tax anomalies which are being manipulated by sham umbrella companies and bogus self-employment contractors to exploit workers, a problem I raised in the House again this week.

Whether someone is self-employed or not must be addressed once and for all. The burden must be placed on the employer to demonstrate that someone is self-employed and not the reverse.

This category of employment is being abused by companies with workers being told to behave like regular employees but in reality the company does not pay NI or pension contributions or maternity and sick pay.

Theresa May also promised to put workers in boardrooms only for her to now say that non-executive directors can represent them instead.

If this so-called government wants a solution to exploitation in the ‘gig’ economy, they should give all workers equal rights from their first day at work, strengthen the enforcement of those rights by giving HMRC more resources to fine employers who breach labour market rights and regulations and also abolish fees for workers who need to take their employer to an employment tribunal.

This review, goes nowhere near far enough to end insecurity and exploitation at work. It is yet another failed attempt by a fledgling, failing PM to pretend she is on your side.