Work­ers’ rights need more pro­tec­tion in the gig econ­omy

The Guardian - - JOURNAL LETTERS -

Rafael Behr’s com­men­tary on Matthew Tay­lor’s “gig econ­omy” re­port is too kind by half (The gig econ­omy can be ex­ploita­tive – but there is no easy path to Good Work, 12 July). Both in the re­port and in in­ter­views, Tay­lor seems more con­cerned to pre­serve the gig econ­omy busi­ness model than wor­ried about the re­sul­tant ex­ploita­tion. The busi­ness own­ers’ ex­cuse, that they couldn’t run their busi­ness other­wise, is ex­actly the same old ex­cuse used right back to the slave own­ers.

If the only way the busi­ness model can work is by deny­ing work­ers’ rights, rights hard-won by gen­er­a­tions of strug­gle, then that flawed model has no place in any kind of de­cent, fair so­ci­ety. The Or­wellian re­brand­ing of the work­ers’ ti­tle “de­pen­dent con­trac­tors”, or some such non­sense, should tell you all you need to know about how flawed Tay­lor’s pro­pos­als are. It re­ally is that sim­ple. Si­mon Dig­gins Rick­mansworth, Hert­ford­shire • Rafael Behr ag­o­nises over the trade­off fac­ing the gig econ­omy, be­tween hav­ing a flex­i­ble labour mar­ket and guar­an­tee­ing a min­i­mum hourly in­come for peo­ple who work flex­i­bly.

The Tay­lor re­view posits that peo­ple in the gig econ­omy who choose to work at off-peak times should not nec­es­sar­ily be en­ti­tled to the min­i­mum wage. But when I raised this in the House of Com­mons, the min­is­ter could not have been clearer in her as­sur­ance: “Min­i­mum wages rates are sacro­sanct. There will be no trade-off when it comes to en­sur­ing that ev­ery­body is paid at least the min­i­mum wage.”

This is a clear un­der­tak­ing from the gov­ern­ment. The House’s job now is to en­sure that un­der­tak­ing is hon­oured in any sub­se­quent leg­is­la­tion. If gig com­pa­nies are re­quired by law al­ways to abide by the min­i­mum wage, even if that means a loss in flex­i­bil­ity, they will need to reg­u­late the sup­ply of labour or pay from their prof­its the min­i­mum wage when there is not the level of de­mand to pay all work­ers at that rate. Frank Field MP Labour, Birken­head • Theresa May doesn’t need to in­tro­duce new laws to pro­tect work­ers in the gig econ­omy: Bri­tish em­ploy­ment law is fair and ro­bust al­ready. But what she could do is en­sure that the ba­sics of the law and eco­nom­ics are ex­plained to ev­ery­one be­fore they start work­ing, prefer­ably at school, so they can as­sess the vi­a­bil­ity of an “of­fer” them­selves.

Most of th­ese work­ers are ac­tu­ally not self-em­ployed, so are en­ti­tled to hol­i­day pay, statu­tory sick pay and the other ben­e­fits of pay­rolled em­ploy­ment, while the rates their em­ploy­ers of­fer are not eco­nom­i­cally vi­able as a sole in­come.

A prop­erly self-em­ployed worker has to charge many times more per hour than their waged col­leagues in or­der to achieve par­ity of in­come. Un­til this is ex­plained to school leavers, this type of ex­ploita­tion will con­tinue. Michael Heaton Warmin­ster, Wilt­shire • Can you be self-em­ployed if you only have one em­ployer? The tax­man once had a rule that you couldn’t. Who changed that? Ian David­son Lon­don • The Guardian has been con­duct­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions into the gig econ­omy over the past few months. The pub­li­ca­tion last Tues­day of the Tay­lor re­port into the same topic there­fore ought to have jus­ti­fied more than the usual level of cov­er­age. In­stead, what did we get? Theresa May, Re­becca Long-Bai­ley and the GMB of­fer their re­ac­tions to the re­port, Robert Booth gives us a crit­i­cal sum­mary of the re­port, we get an­other two tales from the gig econ­omy, and there is an edi­to­rial along with a com­ment piece by Rafael Behr.

What we do not get is a proper re­port of the re­port it­self, its main rec­om­men­da­tions, its find­ings and some key ex­cerpts from it. When the facts of the mat­ter are sup­planted by a flurry of opin­ions from all and sundry, you do your read­ers a dis­ser­vice. I’d like to know what Tay­lor says, af­ter which opin­ions can be aired. Rod­er­ick MacFar­quhar Ed­in­burgh • Wort­ley Hall, the self-styled “work­ers’ stately home” on the out­skirts of Sh­effield, is a won­der­ful mon­u­ment to the co-op­er­a­tive move­ment and the trade unions and has been lov­ingly re­stored to its for­mer glory. Is there any need for it to hire staff on zero-hours con­tracts? Mal­colm Smith Pwll­heli, Gwynedd • In de­fence of free­lanc­ing stew­ards at Lord’s (Let­ters, 12 July), while I ap­pre­ci­ate the rea­sons that led Rick Hall to re­sign his Tate mem­ber­ship in sym­pa­thy with the staff on zero-hours con­tracts, the case at Lords is rather dif­fer­ent. The Tate has a per­ma­nent ex­hi­bi­tion and there­fore a rel­a­tively con­stant need for a cer­tain num­ber of staff, but the num­ber of stew­ards re­quired at a Test cricket ground varies vastly. While crowds of over 20,000 can be ex­pected to en­ter Lord’s on up to 15 days of the year, there will sel­dom be a 20th of that num­ber for the other 350 days. For at least five months of the year there will be no spec­ta­tors at all. To ex­pect the MCC to em­ploy full-time staff on that ba­sis is maybe a lit­tle ex­ag­ger­ated. Juan Car­los Es­can­dell Bonn, Ger­many • I am a chef and a fa­ther of four chil­dren. To­day in the world of UK hos­pi­tal­ity, work­ing hours laid down in our con­tracts are 48 per week, but we are bound by sign­ing an ex­tra clause to our con­tract that com­mits us to work more as re­quired by the es­tab­lish­ment – which usu­ally means a work­ing week of be­tween 55 and 60 hours.

This ev­i­dently leaves lit­tle or no room for any qual­ity life. Of course, you feel obliged to sign this clause as this is part and par­cel of the job of­fer but you soon re­alise that it is a trap. You live a life of mod­ern-day slav­ery in which you don’t see your fam­ily, you have poor qual­ity sleep and you never get enough rest. In short, you are ex­ploited to the max­i­mum. Need­less to say, turnover is ex­tremely high in the hos­pi­tal­ity busi­ness among chefs.

In our job we know when we start our shift, but not when it ends. Why do we have to be dif­fer­ent from any other pro­fes­sion that has rea­son­able eighthour shifts?

The hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try cur­rently re­ceives recog­ni­tion in the form of star rank­ings from var­i­ous re­view­ing bod­ies – de­pend­ing on the qual­ity of menus, their cre­ativ­ity and pre­sen­ta­tion, prices, the ex­cel­lence of ser­vice and so on.

But who is tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity to en­sure that cooks and chefs have a bal­ance be­tween work and fam­ily and liv­ing any sort of qual­ity life? Surely, we are more im­por­tant than the star rank­ings? Many peo­ple in this in­dus­try are suf­fer­ing and they have no other choice as no law is pro­tect­ing them. Jose Cacín Christchurch, Dorset

Can you be self-em­ployed if you only have one em­ployer? The tax­man once had a rule that you couldn’t Who changed that? Ian David­son

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