British Policy Takes On The Gig Economy, Mirroring International Workplace Change

The gig economy has taken a front seat in British policy lately, as government officials grapple with changing workers’ rights demands. Reuters reports that self-employed individuals in the UK are protected by basic health, safety, and anti-discrimination laws, but they have few rights beyond that.

This status quo has recently been challenged by a recent report by Matthew Taylor, chief executive of Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacturers, and Commerce (RSA). His recommendations include sick and paid holidays, higher wages, and a new definition of “dependent contractors,” The Guardian reports. This means that a construction contractor, for example, while working with the four most common metals (carbon steel, aluminum, copper, and stainless steel), would be protected from wrongly being labeled as self-employed by their company, and thus protected for their hard work.

Aside from contractors and other independent careers, the gig economy is starting to encompass even more sectors of the work force. In a statement to The Guardian, Torsten Bell, director of the Resolution Foundation, said that improved regulations could open new opportunities to those who once struggled to get by.

“While much of the focus has been on relatively small shifts on the gig economy, the review’s most radical proposal would actually have far more impact in traditional sectors such as retail and social care,” he said. “A new minimum wage for overtime, forms of which already operate in the US and Australia, would be a big change for low earning workers struggling with tight budgets and insecure earnings.”

In response to Taylor’s report, Prime Minister Theresa May said that the government will be taking the recommendations into consideration. The Guardian reports that she also emphasized the importance of current legislation, saying that most businesses treated their employees well.

But not all worker’s rights advocates agree — and some say the proposal should reach further.

The Guardian reports that many activists reject Taylor’s recommendation that companies can pay their employees less than minimum wage if the workers can prove that they are being payed 1.2 times that standard overall. Uber in particular was used as an example of unjust business practices. In a statement to BBC radio, Rebecca Long-Bailey, shadow business secretary, said that the transportation company does not offer protections to its workers.

“I don’t like the way that they are exploiting their workers, and I think the recent case proved that in the courts; that suggested that the workers that were there were in fact workers, and they weren’t flexible workers, and they needed to be given the adequate amount of protection and rights that workers enjoy,” she said, according to The Guardian.

This gig economy fight reflects the one in the United States, where gig workers make up 34% of the workforce. The overall workplace is changing drastically as technology and sciences breed advancement. In fact, between 2012 and 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the economy will need 1.3 million scientists and engineers to replace those exiting the workforce, creating 2.3 million job openings. And this workforce is getting younger and more open to gig positions.

So, the debate pushes forward. Rafael Behr sums up in The Guardian:

“Crap job or no job? It isn’t a very enticing choice,” he writes. “Taylor at least recognises that an imaginative policy platform would move the debate on from that grim bifurcation, even if his review doesn’t map out a very daring destination.”

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