• International Workplace
  • 23 May 2017

New legislation required for ‘insecure’ workers?

A new study published by the TUC reveals that the UK has seen significant growth in ‘insecure’ forms of employment compared to other EU countries. It links the growth to relatively weak legal protections for those in ‘bogus’ self-employment, agency work and on zero-hour contracts.

The report comes at the same time as GMB, the union for couriers, launched new legal action against Hermes, following its success against Uber in October last year – a ruling which means drivers are entitled to be paid at least the National Minimum Wage and holiday pay, amongst other benefits. 

The case against Hermes is the latest case brought by GMB on behalf of its members to tackle so-called ‘gig economy’ exploitation and is on behalf of eight lead claimant Hermes couriers who are allegedly being denied their workers’ rights.

Hermes currently classifies its couriers as self-employed and therefore is not required to give them basic rights such as holiday pay and the National Minimum Wage.

Earlier this month the Work and Pensions Committee branded self-employment contracts used by Hermes, and other gig economy companies, as ‘gibberish’ and ‘almost unintelligible’.

Maria Ludkin, GMB Legal Director, said:

“Under the false claims of ‘flexibility’ Hermes seems to think it’s acceptable to wriggle out of treating its workers with respect. Guaranteed hours, sick pay, pension contributions – these aren’t privileges to be bestowed when companies feel like it, they are the legal right of all UK workers.”

Meanwhile British food courier firm Deliveroo has removed a contract clause which banned its self-employed riders from seeking workers' rights. Like Uber, Deliveroo has been criticised for not offering rights such as holiday and sick pay.

In its new contract, the firm removed a clause which featured in some older agreements and read: "Neither you nor anyone acting on your behalf will present any claim in the Employment Tribunal or any civil court in which it is contended that you are either an employee or a worker."

The TUC’s new report, International Trends in Insecure Work, finds that the absence of effective legislation in the UK to regulate insecure work has allowed the growth of atypical employment, like zero-hours contracts. By contrast, atypical workers elsewhere in the EU tend to have stronger legal protections and greater job security.

For example:

  • In France, workers can only be on a fixed-term contract for 18 months, and Germany has introduced a maximum hiring period of 18 months for temporary agency workers.
  • Zero-hours contracts do not exist in many EU countries, and are strongly regulated in others (e.g. Netherlands, Italy, Germany), but only lightly regulated in the UK. In the Netherlands, for example, employers are required to pay for three hours per shift, and to provide regular hours when the worker reaches a certain number of weekly hours over a given period.

TUC General Secretary, Frances O’Grady said:

“We don’t need to accept insecure jobs as a necessary evil to get more people into work. In Germany, employment growth has been the strongest in the EU, but at the same time insecure employment has declined.

“All the parties must explain in their election manifestos how they will improve the rights of working people. There are millions of insecure workers in Britain who need a government that will flex its muscles to fight their corner, and stand up to bosses who treat them badly.

“If countries like France, the Netherlands and Germany can give their working people more protection, Britain can too.”

NIESR Researcher, Nathan Hudson-Sharp, said:

“While insecure work in other European countries has been characterised by the emergence of regulation and policy, the UK has noticeably lacked much needed new legislation. The UK therefore stands out for having very precarious forms of work, and for creating arrangements where workers are at particular risk of insecurity.”