Uber and CitySprint among gig economy firms to face parliament
Uber and courier firms including CitySprint are to be called to give evidence to a parliamentary inquiry into gig economy companies that have continued to deny workers employment rights despite tribunal rulings.
Frank Field MP, chair of the work and pensions committee, is to see if changes to legislation and enforcement are needed to ensure workers have their legal employment rights.
The new inquiry comes after a string of tribunal rulings against companies, including Uber, eCourier and CitySprint, which ruled that couriers and taxi drivers should be classified as workers and be entitled to holiday pay and the minimum wage. The companies failed to deliver those rights across their workforce, and argued that their drivers and riders were self-employed contractors.
“The inquiry will, I hope, shine a bright light on the extent to which justice is being evaded in the gig economy,” said Field, who resigned the Labour whip late August. “We will be looking to suggest any immediate changes that are required, both to the law itself as well as its enforcement, to ensure no company is able to evade justice.”
The inquiry launches as Uber continues to fight a 2016 tribunal ruling that said its drivers were workers and not self employed. The latest round is expected to be heard at the court of appeal late in October. Since the tribunal ruling Uber has offered some improved conditions for UK drivers, including limited insurance, limits on working hours and a 24-hour phone line for support.
Uber has repeatedly insisted that most of its drivers wanted to retain the flexibility to choose their own hours. However, the firm continues to face criticism over conditions. Couriers working for its Uber Eats takeaway delivery service this week protested outside the company’s London head office over a change in pay structure, which they said left them out of pocket.
In November 2017 CitySprint was accused of making a mockery of Britain’s employment rights system after changing couriers’ contracts rather than giving them the minimum wage and holiday pay, despite losing an employment tribunal case on the issue.
In May 2017, eCourier, a subsidiary of Royal Mail specialising in same-day deliveries, admitted it had incorrectly classified a London-based bicycle courier as an independent contractor and had wrongly denied him standard employment benefits. The company immediately announced a review into how it could implement the same worker status “for colleagues where it reflects their actual working arrangements with us”.
Ian Oliver, chief executive of eCourier, said: “We did carry out a review of our fleet of drivers and identified a group who we felt could be ‘workers’. Accordingly we changed their contracts to provide benefits such as holiday pay. They were also offered a workplace pension.”
But the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain said it was frustrated that there had been no sign of significant change. Jason Moyer-Lee, general secretary of the union, which has been involved in a number of tribunal actions on workers’ status, said: “For a couple of years now we have been winning tribunal claims against courier and private hire companies. Yet despite this somehow these workers are still not getting the rights they’re entitled to. The enforcement system is clearly broken and this inquiry will shine a welcome spotlight on its abject failure.”
Field will be gathering evidence from individual workers, legal experts, enforcement specialists, trade unions and companies, with a view to publishing his findings alongside a series of recommendations before Christmas. The government’s director of labour market enforcement, Sir David Metcalf, will also be invited to contribute to the inquiry.Sarah Butler, The Guardian