The European Commission is moving towards legislation on gig workers’ rights at a time when Matthew Taylor is decrying lack of action in the UK.
The European Commission has launched the first stage of a consultation process involving gig platforms and workers. The EU’s digital policy chief Margrethe Vestager says that the process acknowledges that the platform economy is here to stay and that online workers need protection just as much as offline ones. For the EU, the key issues is to find a balance between making the most of the opportunities of the platform economy and ensuring that the social rights of people working in it are the same as in the traditional economy. Another concern is ensuring that digital platforms don’t undermine traditional companies which are subject to existing employment laws.
There has been much interest in how to promote best practice in gig working in recent years, with Matthew Taylor’s 2017 Good Work Plan [which remains to be implemented] being one case in point. Taylor told the Guardian recently that the reforms he suggested and which the Government approved, may have slipped off the agenda due to the impact of Brexit and the pandemic and spoke of a “deafening silence” in recent months. Yet the gig economy continues to develop, despite the recent court ruling against Uber.
LinkedIn recently announced the autumn launch of its new gig work platform, Marketplaces. This will target freelance white-collar professionals and allow users to book them directly through the platform. This move to support and promote gig work job postings is expected to make LinkedIn a direct challenger to companies like Fiverr and Upwork which already serve a similar demographic.
The rise of the gig working professional is likely to be an ongoing trend as employers and some employees look for more flexible options for the future. A Mercer event last week on older workers discussed the increasing need for flexible retirement and more flexible working, including portfolio work, in the years leading up to retirement. Employers are looking at how they can deliver on this, for example, using ‘alumni’ pools of accountants to cover busy periods at the end of the financial year.
Unilever is one employer that has been experimenting with new ways of working in view of anticipated demographic and other changes. One of these is a new U-Work stream which is for permanent employees who don’t want to work all the time. U-Work employees can work for other employers and are paid a retainer by Unilever. They commit to a certain amount of hours in a year and get a benefits package, including investment in learning and training.
There are many different permutations and gig platforms may fill a need, particularly for smaller employers who need similar flexibility.
At the moment, ONS statistics show self employment is falling fast, but it is likely to rise again if unemployment increases, despite concerns about IR35 [which many freelancers still don’t seem to be aware of or to have prepared for] and rumours of increased taxes for the self-employed [although a House of Commons Treasure Committee published today has been accused of kicking the can down the road on this in its ‘Tax after Coronavirus’ report by issuing yet another call for a review].
The Taylor report argues for an expansion and clarification of employment status in view of alternative ways of working, including a ‘dependent contractor’ category for some platform workers, and that higher taxes have to come with more rights and protections. Gig workers across Europe have increasingly been joining together to campaign on these issues and the Taylor report was viewed as a forerunner of possible legislative moves. This is very definitely an area to watch closely.