Gig economy workers need better protection

In what has been labelled one of the most consequential UK employment cases for decades, the Supreme Court on Friday ruled that Uber drivers are workers and as such are entitled to benefits such as holiday pay. It would be wise for many firms and the Government to give this decision far greater consideration.

The ruling’s impact is likely to ripple beyond Uber’s business model and through the operations of similar gig economy firms, which have fuelled the jobs market since 2008. This includes delivery giant Deliveroo, which to date has not answered how it will react to the ruling.

While it will also act as an important precedent, it will not be immediately transformative. Those working in the sector will have to bring their own cases in order to enjoy further legal rights as four Uber workers did in the 2016 tribunal case.

What is clear from the court’s ruling is that the Government should now step in to ensure that everyone is able to enjoy the benefits of work that many of us take for granted. And where the law is already sufficient, HMRC must properly enforce it.

Gig economy firms also have a moral and societal responsibility to provide their workers with rights and benefits commensurate with the job, not least when some like Deliveroo are potentially only weeks away from a stock market flotation and have benefited from the pandemic, and their delivery riders who have worked fearlessly as critical workers. The riders have no shares and will see no windfall for their efforts.

The gig economy allows some choice for individual workers and has boosted the nation’s coffers, but employers cannot simply opt out of their legal and moral responsibilities for those who do want better protection.