Freelance workers in the UK have expressed anger that the long-awaited to changes to working practices have stopped short of bringing in legislation to prevent bogus self-employment.
An increasing number of people across the UK are working in industries where employers are using legal loopholes to avoid having to pay workers holiday pay, sick pay, or other benefits which are usually associated with being employed.
These are the people living in what is known as ‘bogus self-employment’, where the worker takes on the responsibility of paying their own taxes and being in charge of their tools or supplies but without the safety of being paid while out ill. They also don’t enjoy the same benefits that self-employed would usually have. They would also have little to no control over when they work.
The cost of bogus self-employment in the private sector is forecast to rise to £1.2bn a year by 2022-23, according to government figures.
Although the issue of bogus self-employment focuses on its costs to the taxpayer, the more important matter for freelancers is that there are around to around 1.1 million couriers, minicab drivers and other workers being denied their basic rights.
Theresa May’s Raft of New Labour Policies Fail to Address the Issue
Earlier this month, Theresa May announced a raft of new labour policies that she said would mean “tangible progress” towards upholding workers’ rights, in response to a Downing Street-commissioned review by Matthew Taylor. But there was disappointment from workers, trade unions and the government’s opposition that she had only pledged to consult on possible changes to the use of self-employment, which may not include changing the law.
The issue was brought into sharp focus this week following the death of Don Lane, 53, a self-employed courier for DPD who missed medical appointments to treat his diabetes, partly because he was afraid of facing £150 a day charges that formed part of his contract as “franchisee” with DPD. The case provoked widespread outrage and on Tuesday, John Lewis joined Marks & Spencer as major customers of DPD, in demanding answers from the parcel company over its treatment of Mr. Lane.
There had been hope the government would bring employment law into line with the judgments of several employment tribunals that have ruled in favour of gig economy workers – including for Uber and City Sprint – which ruled they are workers and not self-employed and so should enjoy paid holiday, the minimum wage and other rights.
But citing the complexity of the issue, the government only said it would launch “a detailed consultation examining options, including new legislation, to make it easier for both the workforce and businesses to understand whether someone is an employee, worker or self-employed”.
May said: “We recognise the world of work is changing and we have to make sure we have the right structures in place to reflect those changes, enhancing the UK’s position as one of the best places in the world to do business.”
“Why don’t they change the law now,” said Lane’s widow, Ruth, who believes her husband should have had employment rights including sick pay. “Don has died and they should be making changes.”
The shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey, accused May of “more words with no real action to improve the lives of the millions of people in insecure work”.