Gig econ­omy: real peo­ple, real sto­ries

If you want to know what’s re­ally go­ing on who bet­ter to ask than the peo­ple on the front­line? We did just that ... and the re­sults are a fright­en­ing in­dict­ment of work in mod­ern Scot­land

The Herald on Sunday - - NEWS FOCUS -

‘When the bosses said jump, we had to say ‘how high?’’

ALAN’S ex­pe­ri­ence of life in the gig econ­omy nearly broke him. The con­trol, the pow­er­less­ness – it all piled up and left him on the edge of a ner­vous break­down, he says.

Alan worked across Scot­land for DPD – prob­a­bly the best-known courier ser­vice in the UK, send­ing pack­ages around the coun­try on be­half of re­tail gi­ants like John Lewis and Marks & Spencer. Alan worked for the com­pany – the big­gest par­cel provider af­ter the Post Of­fice – from 2014.

He saw an ad­vert for an “owner driver fran­chise” with the com­pany, billed as self-em­ploy­ment, and thought it would be a per­fect fit for him. As self­em­ployed Alan could work when he wanted, have week­ends with his fam­ily, and be his own boss. To­day, Alan de­scribes the job as a “mas­sive lie”.

What Alan ex­pe­ri­enced is some­thing cam­paign­ers call bogus self­em­ploy­ment – a grow­ing phe­nom­e­non in the UK where em­ploy­ers bring some­one on as self-em­ployed but treat them as if they were a mem­ber of staff. That means they get none of the perks of be­ing staff – they have to pay their own tax and na­tional in­surance, and they don’t get sick pay or hol­i­day pay – but all of the draw­backs. “When the bosses said jump, we had to say ‘how high?’,”Alan said.

Alan got only two weeks hol­i­day a year, had to work ev­ery Mon­day to Fri­day, as well as week­ends when or­dered, and when he worked there driv­ers were fined £150 if they took a day off sick. Ruth Lane, the wi­dow of DPD driver Don Lane, is su­ing the com­pany over her hus­band’s death. Lane missed med­i­cal ap­point­ments as he feared the £150 fine. He had di­a­betes and had been charged by DPD af­ter at­tend­ing a spe­cial­ist re­nal ap­point­ment. He went on to miss other ap­point­ments. He col­lapsed twice at work.

His wife says Lane was vom­it­ing blood but still went to work due to his fear of be­ing fined. On the day of his death, he com­pleted his de­liv­er­ies but suf­fered a heart at­tack when he ar­rived home and later died in hos­pi­tal. In Fe­bru­ary, one month af­ter Lane’s death, DPD be­gan to phase out fines and abol­ished them al­to­gether in July. Alan says: “It is a dis­grace that it took the death of a de­cent man to bring this about. It was a Vic­to­rian sys­tem.”

Alan also had to hire the van he drove from the com­pany for nearly £800 a month and pay for fuel and re­pairs. UK Govern­ment rules per­mit a max­i­mum of 11 hours’ driv­ing in any work­ing day – but Alan says he of­ten spent 13 hours be­hind the wheel.

Like all work­ers in the gig econ­omy, it was the pre­car­i­ous na­ture of his em­ploy­ment which left Alan most vul­ner­a­ble. “We were afraid to say any­thing. The threat was that you could be dis­missed at any mo­ment and told your ser­vices were no longer re­quired so we did what we were told – we all have mort­gages and mouths to feed,” he said.

Fair em­ploy­ment cam­paign­ers, like the Bet­ter Than Zero cam­paign run by the STUC in Scot­land, be­lieve many cor­po­ra­tions can only gen­er­ate the prof­its they do thanks to their em­ploy­ment prac­tices – which of­ten in­volve no con­tri­bu­tions to sick pay, pen­sions, hol­i­days, tax and na­tional in­surance. DPD’s oper­at­ing profit rose 12 per cent last year to £121 mil­lion.

Alan said that, even­tu­ally, he “was fright­ened of what was go­ing to hap­pen to my­self and my health. I couldn’t carry on there be­cause of the hours. I don’t like to ad­mit it but I was hon­estly head­ing for a break­down. I was bor­der­ing on tear­ful. I couldn’t even go to the doc­tor to get help as I’d get hit with a £150 fine”.

He left his role as an “owner driver fran­chisee” with DPD ear­lier this year.

‘Man­age­ment have the power ... staff have very few rights’

WHEN most peo­ple think of the gig econ­omy, they think of a De­liv­eroo cy­clist or an Uber driver – peo­ple work­ing here and there were they can, earn­ing a liv­ing in the new dig­i­tal­ly­driven in­dus­tries. But that view isn’t the whole pic­ture.

First of all, a bet­ter de­scrip­tion would be pre­car­i­ous em­ploy­ment: peo­ple on zero-hours con­tracts, short-term con­tracts, sea­sonal work, ca­sual work, tem­po­rary work and some forms of self­em­ploy­ment – peo­ple who don’t know from one day to the next how much work they will be given if any, with many earn­ing the min­i­mum wage. Sec­ond, the dig­i­tal in­dus­tries are just the tip of the ice­berg. Pre­car­i­ous em­ploy­ment hits ev­ery sec­tor, but is most com­mon in es­tab­lished sec­tors like hos­pi­tal­ity, where Fay Gra­ham works.

Fay wait­resses at the Grand Cen­tral Ho­tel in Glas­gow and is on a zero-hours con­tract – a con­tract which guar­an­tees you no work­ing hours. For staff in all sec­tors, shifts are of­ten changed at the last mo­ment and staff are sent home early if work is quiet – and not paid for the hours they were due to work – and they are of­ten asked and ex­pected to work over­time at short no­tice.

“It makes it ex­cep­tion­ally hard to man­age your life,” says Faye. Staff on th­ese con­tracts in all em­ploy­ment sec­tors can see their pay fluc­tu­ate wildly de­pend­ing on how much work they are of­fered, mean­ing it is hard to bal­ance do­mes­tic fi­nances. Child­care can be­come prob­lem­atic if staff are asked to work at short no­tice, and late-night travel home wor­ries many women staff.

Faye, who is a union ac­tivist, said: “Zero-hours con­tracts give man­age­ment the power to bully and ha­rass – as staff just have to take it. Man­age­ment give the hours to the peo­ple they think most de­serve it. They have the power to do what they want and staff have very lit­tle rights if any.”

The owner reg­u­larly ‘slaps fe­male staff on the back­side’

EMMA, who wait­resses at a well­known restau­rant in Glas­gow, spoke of the cli­mate of sex­ism that per­vades the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try for low-paid staff. Young women are of­ten told to wear heels, skirts and make-up, and find that if they don’t com­ply they can soon see

their shifts van­ish. In the restau­rant where she works the owner reg­u­larly “slaps fe­male staff on the back­side”.

She added: “Most are mi­grant work­ers with lit­tle English and they just take it as they feel it would be too hard to get an­other job.”

Emma also told of shifts be­ing can­celled at the last minute. In the restau­rant where she works the big­gest prob­lem is that staff have no con­tracts at all. There was also de­layed pay­ment of wages to staff, short-chang­ing for over­time, and staff be­ing forced into split shifts if the restau­rant was quiet – this would see a wait­ress told to take an un­paid break of two or three hours be­tween lunch and din­ner. “It seems like the em­ploy­ment pol­icy is just to treat peo­ple like s**t,” she said.

Bad em­ploy­ment prac­tices can also be re­flected in a bad at­ti­tude to cus­tomers. Emma told of cheap brand vodka be­ing de­canted as Smirnoff at the restau­rant, and wine from un­fin­ished bot­tles be­ing resold. “I would love to re­port them to Trad­ing Stan­dards,” she says, “but how many peo­ple, in­clud­ing my­self, will end up be­ing out of work.” ‘I was sick but did a 14-hour shift as I was scared I’d get no work’ SAN­DRA also worked in a well-known Glas­gow restau­rant – she, too, was given no con­tract. “Within a few weeks, I re­alised I’d got my­self into a bad sit­u­a­tion,” she says. Her hours fluc­tu­ated hugely – some­times she worked 20 hours a week, some­times 50. Like many other wait­resses, she found herself or­dered home if the restau­rant was quiet. Af­ter mul­ti­ple staff de­par­tures, she found herself work­ing 15 hour days.

She was one of the few mem­bers of staff to re­ceive payslips. San­dra pestered the own­ers for cor­rect pa­per­work as she wanted to en­sure her tax and na­tional in­surance were be­ing paid. Most other staff made no such de­mands. Sup­pli­ers were also paid cash in hand.

“One week we were all paid cash in hand and told that tax was still be­ing paid for us – but how did we know that was true?” San­dra said. “Most of my payslips also had the wrong tax and na­tional in­surance in­for­ma­tion. Other staff who got pay slips found no tax had been taken off them even though they were earn­ing over the thresh­old. I have no idea what on earth was go­ing on when it came to the tax­man.”

There were ro­dents in the food store – even though the venue has a pres­ti­gious rep­u­ta­tion among din­ers. Staff were too scared to speak up about the prob­lems all around them. “There were cases were peo­ple stood up to the bosses and they just didn’t get an­other shift. There were days when I was sick but came in and did a 14-hour shift as I was scared I would get no more work. Ba­si­cally, the bosses were like greedy fac­tory own­ers from the 19th cen­tury – they couldn’t get enough money and they didn’t care about staff.”

San­dra also spoke of bul­ly­ing. On one occasion, staff had brought in their own food as they were work­ing at a wed­ding re­cep­tion all day. They left their lunches in bags in the staff room. A di­rec­tor tied the bags to­gether and took bets on how long it would take hun­gry staff to get their food. “The im­pres­sion you got is that we were not hu­man in their eyes,” says San­dra.

An­other mem­ber of staff de­scribes her time at the restau­rant as a “night­mare”. She had no con­tract, her pay was late and she was given no payslip.

“Through­out my time there [the own­ers] con­sis­tently treated us like slaves, talked to us as though we were chil­dren and ob­vi­ously con­sid­ered us lesser hu­man be­ings who didn’t de­serve to be paid for the hard work we put in to keep­ing their busi­ness afloat.” ‘I have no idea how a wait­ress can be seen as self-em­ployed’ GWEN Gar­ret is 23 and now do­ing her masters de­gree in me­dieval his­tory – but un­til re­cently she worked in one

pre­car­i­ous job af­ter an­other. “They were all ter­ri­ble in their own way,’” she says. “Most jobs were pay­ing il­le­gally with cash in hand. I would ask for payslips and most re­fused.

“There was a fac­tory job – they paid with a payslip. A cafe – that was cash in hand. A ke­bab place – that was cash in hand. A whisky bar – they paid with payslips. A sushi place – they also re­fused to pay with a payslip.”

Nerys, an­other masters stu­dent, also had a suc­ces­sion of pre­car­i­ous jobs – but her worst ex­pe­ri­ence came when she worked for a so­cial en­ter­prise. So­cial en­ter­prises are meant to help good causes – an ex­am­ple of a so­cial en­ter­prise do­ing what they are meant to do would be the Big Is­sue mag­a­zine which runs as a busi­ness but helps the home­less. Of­ten, so­cial en­ter­prises get fi­nan­cial breaks and in­cen­tives from Govern­ment.

The so­cial en­ter­prise that Nerys fell foul of was a cafe with a side ven­ture to help the el­derly and dis­abled. First of all, Nerys was caught up in an­other case of bogus self-em­ploy­ment. She was given a job as a wait­ress but told by the own­ers that she was self-em­ployed so would have to look af­ter her own tax and na­tional in­surance, and would get no staff ben­e­fits such as sick pay or hol­i­day pay. She was also paid cash in hand, earn­ing the min­i­mum wage.

“I have no idea how a wait­ress can be con­sid­ered self-em­ployed, but I needed the work,” she said. “This was the most dodgy place I ever worked for. I also had all the down­sides of a zero-hours con­tract – so I didn’t now how many hours I was get­ting or when I would get called on to work.”

Nerys said she worked for four months at the so­cial en­ter­prise and saw one per­son in all that time come to use the ser­vices for the dis­abled and el­derly.

The STUC’s Bet­ter Than Zero cam­paign is in­ves­ti­gat­ing this so­cial en­ter­prise and oth­ers.

‘I ended up with anx­i­ety – sit­ting in bed cry­ing at night’

BELINDA was just 16 when she went to work as a wait­ress in a well-known Scot­tish restau­rant. She ex­pe­ri­enced the usual zero-hours prob­lems – ran­dom hours, un­paid over­time, tips not paid, split shifts – and was also paid cash in hand. How­ever, the school­girl was also touched in­ap­pro­pri­ately by a mem­ber of staff, and when she told her em­ployer he said “just stand up for your­self”. No other ac­tion was taken.

Kyle Scott also be­gan work­ing in hos­pi­tal­ity aged just 16 and pulled pints in many bars around the cen­tral belt, where all of his em­ploy­ment was un­der a zero-hours con­tract. “It was al­ways very dif­fi­cult to get a day off as you’d be seen as a hin­drance and the boss would just start cut­ting your shifts. I’ve seen peo­ple ask for a day off and just get told to get to f***,” he said.

He also spoke of sex­ual ha­rass­ment of fe­male staff by cus­tomers. “Young women would go to speak to the man­ager and be told ‘look we need their rev­enue, they need to stay in the pub’. So they aren’t kicked out. It hap­pens widely across the hos­pi­tal­ity in­dus­try.

“If you are in­jured or sick or sex­u­ally ha­rassed you say noth­ing as that could put you out of work – we ba­si­cally have no rights. You drop every­thing do to what the boss says – as if you don’t, then you are scared you will never get a shift again.

“I ended up with an anx­i­ety dis­or­der – sit­ting in bed cry­ing at night as I didn’t know what shifts I was get­ting so I couldn’t plan my life. It was men­tally and phys­i­cally ex­haust­ing.”

Some weeks Kyle would work 70 hours, at other times he went with­out a shift for three weeks. “You have to suck up to the boss to get shifts, and that’s grim as you are put in di­rect com­pe­ti­tion with your peers and friends to see who gets the most shifts.

“One of my big­gest mem­o­ries is the num­ber of peo­ple break­ing down cry­ing. I’d see that at least a few times a day as peo­ple were so men­tally ex­hausted. We even had a joke that there was a ‘no cry­ing in the glass wash’ rule.”

Kyle is now work­ing for Strath­clyde stu­dents’ union af­ter grad­u­at­ing and loves his new job in cam­paigns and pol­icy. “It’s a gen­uine breath of fresh air,” he says, “it is the first time I have ever been happy go­ing to work. The con­trast is from black to white.”

‘I want to make cer­tain that other peo­ple don’t get stung like me’

JOSH Philliban had his taste of pre­car­i­ous em­ploy­ment in a pop-up food store – an­other sec­tor heav­ily reliant on zero-hours con­tracts. He wasn’t paid a penny for a month’s work, he says – and is still in dis­pute with his em­ployer, who can’t be named for this rea­son.

Josh says he worked nearly all of June and was owed al­most £700. When he tried to get what he was owned, his em­ployer hit him with al­le­ga­tions of theft, which Josh claims are lies.

The row got uglier last week af­ter The Herald on Sun­day be­gan try­ing to find out what had been go­ing on. “Josh said: ‘I just want to make cer­tain that other peo­ple don’t get stung like me.”

‘Our tax pounds are prop­ping up this sys­tem’

AMA­ZON has courted more than a lit­tle con­tro­versy as an em­ployer – and no-one knows more about what the gi­ant gets up to than Jim McCourt, one of Scot­land’s most de­ter­mined cam­paign­ers for em­ploy­ment rights, and the man­ager of In­ver­clyde Ad­vice and Em­ploy­ment Rights Cen­tre near Ama­zon’s Greenock plant.

This is one of his busiest times of year as sub-con­tracted agency work­ers are drafted in to Ama­zon to work on the Christ­mas rush. “The worst and sharpest em­ploy­ment prac­tices are bred in the sub-con­tract cul­ture,” McCourt says. “This is fun­da­men­tal to how abuse and con­trol takes place.”

Agency work­ers, says McCourt, are dis­missed for the slight­est in­frac­tions, such as too many toi­let breaks or if they can’t make over­time. “They will get a phone call from the agency,” McCourt says, “and be told they are not re­quired back. That ter­ri­fies the rest of the work­force.”

It also plunges peo­ple into poverty, says McCourt – as many agency

Faye Gra­ham is one of many peo­ple to have ex­pe­ri­enced pre­car­i­ous work in hos­pi­tal­ity. From ir­reg­u­lar hours to ha­rass­ment by cus­tomers, the list of is­sues in this sec­tor is long

Kyle Scott, top, and Josh Philliban both suf­fered the ef­fects of work­ing in pre­car­i­ous hos­pi­tal­ity jobs. Main pic­ture: ware­house work is an area no­to­ri­ous for its em­ploy­ment prac­tices

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