Workers’ Rights in the Gig Economy: Understanding the Legal Framework

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workers rights in the gig economy
Photo Credits: Priscilla Du Preez via Unsplash

Under most circumstances, understanding what kind of rights a person has based on their employment status isn’t complicated. All traditional employees, whether part-time or full-time, have certain rights to leave, pay, hours etc. when working with an organisation. More often than not, a lot of employees have entitlements based on the hours they work.

However, the issue then lies among employees who are not part of these traditional employment models and are a part of the “gig economy”. The gig economy refers to a certain type of employment where one task is shared by multiple people. Taking delivery platforms like Postmates as an example, employees working to do the same task (i.e., deliver food/groceries/other items) would be working a “gig”.

With gigs and working in such arrangements, comes confusion about rights being offered by the organisation creating these gigs. This was a point of discussion in the Uber BV v Aslam case where the Supreme Court decided that uber drivers were workers of the organisation and not self-employed, hence being entitled to employment-related rights and protections.

What Happened in Uber BV v Aslam

In February 2021, the UK Supreme Court decided in this case that Uber drivers will not be taken as self-employed but as employees of the company Uber. This came about when Uber refused to grant their driver workers’ rights such as minimum wage, holiday pay, paid breaks etc. on the grounds that they were self-employed.

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Uber also said that the drivers were free to choose their rides and could accept/decline gigs without any penalty. However, the Supreme Court identified various factors that determined that the drivers were not self-employed:

  1. Court found that Uber sets the fare for the drivers,
  2. Uber has control over how the drivers work and can keep a check on their ratings in case the drivers need to be penalised,
  3. The T’s and C’s of the gig, the method of interaction with customers and the route they take are not under the driver’s control either

Given the amount of control that the company has over the drivers, the Supreme Court stated that the driver should be given worker status instead of self-employed.

Paving the Way Forward

The Uber case made a significant difference to the world of employment law as it changed the way the UK workforce defines certain terms. For example, “worker” was taken as someone who is not self-employed, works for an employer and is not in business on their own because of the Uber case. Moreover, it included gig workers within the ambit of the “worker” definition giving them workers’ rights.

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A crucial aspect of this case was Uber’s control over its employees helped draw the line between a worker and someone who is self-employed. When it comes to people who freelance, if a person has autonomy over their work and is not under the control of a client, they can be seen as self-employed. However, if they are working for a client and cannot accept/decline work from anywhere else or if they have to work in a manner suitable to the client, then they can be seen as workers.

Rights of Gig Economy Workers

Cases like the Uber case have created a work environment where companies that offer gigs are now offering basic rights to their workers. While some are more easily achieved than others, there is no denying that there will be moments when workers will have to demand certain rights in the future. However, the Uber case has set the ball rolling.

Some of the rights entitled to workers include:

  • Paid rest breaks during working hours
  • Holiday pay which is a minimum of 5.6 weeks paid holiday per year
  • Protection against discrimination based on any ground
  • A minimum wage of £8.91 per hour to workers who are 23 and above
  • Right to statutory sick pay

If someone classified as a worker started working after April 2020, they can also ask for a written statement of employment terms. This document will contain details about the hours, rights, location of work, salary and frequency of pay etc., much like a regular employment contract.

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