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The gig economy: is it time to change employment law?

Experts are warning that a change in employment law is necessary to help protect the increasing number of workers in the gig economy

People who undertake temporary work for businesses and organisations while being officially self-employed now make up a large and growing percentage of workers in both the UK and the US. A recent study predicted that by the year 2020, around 40% of workers will be independent contractors.

While self-employment has many advantages – not least the ability to set a better work/life balance, work only the hours you need to and the chance to be your own boss – certain problems are coming to the fore now that more and more people are choosing this route.

One of the biggest, of course, is the fact that self-employed workers do not enjoy the same rights as their directly employed counterparts. Holiday and sick pay, an entitlement to redundancy pay, protection from being unfairly dismissed and the right to be paid the national minimum wage are just a few of the important, established employment laws many workers take for granted.

Self-employed workers have no access to these rights and therefore less protection from unscrupulous employers who may take advantage of the people who work for them, and already certain sections of workers are protesting against what they see as unfair treatment. Recent cases include Deliveroo couriers stopping working after plans were revealed to pay them per delivery rather than the normal hourly rate, while a number of Uber drivers took their employer to a tribunal demanding better rights. Workers for UberEATS also acted over their pay.

Some legal experts believe that certain aspects of employment law need to be reviewed, particularly as the growing number of workers in the gig economy could be losing out on basic rights, while the courts are already recognising that workers who are officially self-employed should not be treated unfairly.

Unscrupulous businesses that deliberately give their workers self-employed status in their contracts, hoping this will deter them from asking for better treatment, are beginning to fall foul of the courts, which look beyond the contract wording to get to the basics of the worker/employer agreement. The courts have also indicated that any clause in a contract that prevents individuals from bringing a claim by challenging the status of their employment would probably be unenforceable.

Unfortunately, mutually agreeing what employment status a worker actually has is not a simple issue. Complications arise around the amount of control an employer has over the employee, such as whether the worker can be disciplined by the employer.

Despite the confusion, most experts agree that clearer employment laws must be implemented to ensure workers are not losing out as a result of the status their employer imposes upon them.

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