It used to be the case that high unemployment was the clearest sign the jobs market was broken, that was before the gig economy. Now, people are put on zero-hour contracts providing no guarantee of actual work or turned into independent contractors, handing the duties of the employer over to the employee. Quoting low unemployment figures is meaningless when jobs are no longer covering the basic costs of living.
All of this has been in the news over the last week following the tribunal decision that Deliveroo couriers were not entitled to the same basic employment rights as the rest of us. It’s no sign of economic prosperity for companies to take their profits out of the pockets of their workers and if the law fails to recognise the obligations of employers, hard won over many decades, then the law needs to change. Unfortunately, under the current Government that doesn’t seem very likely and one study suggests that if no action is taken 40% of US jobs will be in the gig economy by 2020. Where the US leads the UK is often quick to follow.
By allowing some businesses to operate in this way we risk creating a race to the bottom, encouraging established employers to water down the rights of their workforce in dealing with less scrupulous competitors, something which post-privatisation Royal Mail executives seem increasingly keen to do.
While central government is unwilling to tackle the problem at its source, local government can try to deal with some of its symptoms. As a council, we’ve ruled out the use of zero-hours contracts and require the real Living Wage to be paid to all those working under a Crawley Borough Council contract. While Deliveroo falls outside of the council’s control, Uber–despite applying for a license–has not authorised by the council to operate their private hire service within the Crawley area. More importantly, we’re working to expand the local jobs market to give residents the opportunity to prosper outside of the gig economy, hopefully holding back the tide until another Labour Government can re-introduce real protections for local workers.