'Gig economy' workers need protection: British PM

More and more people in Britain are working in fast-growing sectors such as takeaway delivery. Some say they are left without the protection enjoyed by workers in more traditional forms of employment.
More and more people in Britain are working in fast-growing sectors such as takeaway delivery. Some say they are left without the protection enjoyed by workers in more traditional forms of employment.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

LONDON • The white van man is a well-known British stereotype.

But self-employed workers in Britain are just as likely today to be driving an Uber car, selling handicrafts on e-commerce websites, or riding a bike to deliver a burger with Deliveroo.

British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday used a report that proposes protections for workers in the so-called "gig economy" to try to wrest back control of Britain's political agenda in a direct challenge to opposition parties.

Mrs May signalled in a speech launching the report that it is business as usual for her government, after an ill-judged election gamble damaged her authority and threw away her governing Conservatives' majority in Parliament.

The review commissioned last year has massive implications for employers and the taxman.

"I am clear that this government will act to ensure that the interests of employees on traditional contracts, the self-employed and those people working in the 'gig' economy are all properly protected," she said.

Mrs May challenged her political rivals to "contribute, not just criticise" her plans - a move reflecting both her need for help to pass reforms through Parliament, and her resolve to press ahead despite questions about her future as leader.

More and more people in Britain are working in fast-growing sectors such as takeaway delivery and taxi services, and some say they are left without the protection received by workers in more traditional forms of employment.

Last year, judges sided with two self-employed Uber drivers who had argued that they deserved workers' rights such as minimum wage, prompting Uber to appeal.

In Britain, the self-employed have no entitlement to employment rights beyond basic health and safety and anti-discrimination laws.

Regular workers receive entitlements such as annual leave, rest breaks and minimum wage.

The report suggested a new employment category, known as "dependent contractors", covering those working for platforms such as apps.

Firms will also have to prove that a person working for them is able to earn at least 1.2 times the national living wage, which stands at £7.50 (S$13.40)an hour for the over-25s, the BBC reported on Monday.

Britain's biggest union, Unite, said it was up to businesses to enforce workers' rights and the government needed to ensure entitlements were upheld.

The opposition Labour party said it highlighted the government's record of "failing working people".

BLOOMBERG, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2017, with the headline ''Gig economy' workers need protection: British PM'. Print Edition | Subscribe