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Gig economy workers in the Taylor Review: flexibility meets exploitation

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by Startacus Admin

The Taylor Review

Matthew de la Hey
is the co-founder and CEO of inploi, a community-driven marketplace, enabling people to discover and apply for hospitality jobs with London’s best employers. Matthew and inploi have spent a good amount of time, 
thinking and researching around the topics related to the Taylor Review. 

Matthew has also talked at an University of Oxford Future of Work event last year, and at a UK Sharing Economy Conference with Alex Hanson-Smith, inploi's other co-founder. Here Matthew, an up and coming thought-leader, shares his insight and opinion on the Taylor Review, and we are delighted to give him the space to do just that: 

"On the 11th of July 2017 the RSA published a report entitled, “Good Work: The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices”. Matthew de la HeyCommissioned by the British government, Matthew Taylor and his team were tasked with evaluating the labour market in contemporary Britain - assessing its composition, regulation, and the role of work in society.

Their stated point of departure was that “all work in the UK economy should be fair and decent with realistic scope for development and fulfilment.” Over 116 pages, the report makes a number of recommendations about how this might be achieved, in the context of a drastically changed (and radically changing) employment landscape. One area specifically relevant to the startup/tech community is the treatment and classification of people working in the ‘Gig’ economy, and a proposed new class of ‘employment’: the dependent contractor.

The way that people derive income and the nature of their relationship with sources of that income has changed dramatically, leaving employment legislation behind. One aspect of the ‘changing world of work’ has been the rise of the ‘Gig’ economy. Populated by companies like Uber, Deliveroo, and Taskrabbit, it is defined by the Bureau of Labour Statistics as a workforce characterised by “single project[s] or task[s] for which a worker is hired, often through a digital marketplace, to work on demand.” 

Many (including Mr. Taylor, and myself) have argued in favour of flexibility in the workplace, and have lauded the Gig economy as a means for people to work when and where they want to, in accordance with their lifestyles.

The gig economy and the Taylor ReviewFor a large number of people this is the case, and that ought to be celebrated. However, it is important to remember that this model came to prominence in the climate of increased unemployment which followed the Great Recession. Its companies have grown astronomically fast during what the Bank of England’s Jon Cunliffe described “the slowest recovery in our modern history – slower than the recovery from the Great Depression.”

The OECD cautioned in 2008, when the bottom fell out, that “historical experience suggests that youth, immigrants, low-skilled and older workers are more likely to bear the brunt of rising unemployment” – some of the most vulnerable members of society. It is likely then that many of the newly unemployed or young people entering a labour market devoid of jobs swelled the ranks of the Gig economy’s workers.  

If it acts as a safety net, this is obviously a brilliant thing. However, in the grey areas of employment status classification - between the existing definitions of employees, workers, and independent contractors - lies the potential for  ‘interpretations’ of the law that open the door to exploitation of vulnerability and inequality.

Of companies enjoying the benefits of labour on demand, without upholding the established social contract between a company and a worker dependent on them for income – things like a minimum wage, paid time off when you’re sick, a period of holiday, and other similar rights. Irrelevant for the person doing an odd job here and there to make some extra cash; vital to the worker piecing together an income in an economy of ‘underemployment’.

If the Gig economy (not to mention the Zero Hours Contract) is to be sustainable and fair, offering decent working situations and not exploiting the vulnerable then this needs to be addressed. Taylor has gone some way to doing so – proposing that some people working Gig economy jobs be classified as ‘dependent contractors’ – someone who “is not an employee, but neither are they genuinely self-employed” because “if it looks and feels like employment, it should have the status and protection of employment.”

The Review skillfully navigates a complex landscape – but for now, it is just a set of ideas. Until the government has written greater protections for working people into the law, and takes steps to actively enforce that law, the door to exploitation of society's most vulnerable remains ajar.  

 

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Published on: 14th July 2017

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