UK: Working conditions at Uber and "gig economy" like Victorian time 'sweated labour', MPs report

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Article
11 July 2017

UK workers earning GBP2.50 an hour prompts call for govt. action

Author: Rob Davies & Sarah Butler, Guardian (UK)

The government has been urged to stage an “emergency intervention” to protect gig economy workers, amid concerns they are being forced into contracts that sometimes pay less than £2.50 an hour and can be cancelled at any moment. The allegations are detailed in the latest report by the former work and pensions committee chair, Frank Field MP, into the gig economy, where people work flexible hours on short-term or freelance contracts without the rights of permanent employees. Field’s report comes nine months after Theresa May promised in her maiden party conference speech as prime minister to “make sure that, in our modern and flexible economy, people are properly protected at work”. Its findings are likely to intensify scrutiny of a government-backed review by former Tony Blair adviser Matthew Taylor into modern employment practices, which is expected to be published early next week. Field’s report focuses on firms including Parcelforce, DPD, and – for the first time – British Car Auctions, owner of webuyanycar.com. Complaints raised by staff interviewed for the report include being fined hundreds of pounds unless they worked while ill, while others said that self-employment meant they ended up earning as little as £2.22 an hour, or even losing money. [also refers to Deliveroo, Royal Mail, CitySprint & Uber]

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Article
8 May 2017

UK: Tax authority investigates employment status of Hermes' delivery drivers

Author: Rob Davies, The Guardian (UK)

"HMRC steps up inquiry into employment status of Hermes couriers", 3 May 2017

HM Revenue & Customs has stepped up its investigation into the delivery company Hermes classifiying its couriers as self-employed, while the business has also been hit with an employment rights lawsuit from the GMB trade union. Drivers for Hermes were sent letters from HMRC over the weekend asking them to provide evidence as the tax authority looks into their employment status. In the letter, seen by the Guardian, HMRC requests that the drivers disclose information such as their written contract and payslips, and agree to a one-hour interview. “This will help us decide what your employment status is/was,” it says. HMRC’s investigation follows one by the Guardian that found some self-employed couriers were being paid less than the national living wage", in an arrangement the company said had been approved by HMRC. Separately, GMB has filed a lawsuit challenging Hermes over employment conditionsfor its couriers, vowing to battle “bogus self-employment and gig economy exploitation”...

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Article
1 May 2017

May Day report by MPs damns growing UK gig economy

Author: Katie Allen, The Guardian (UK)

Companies in Britain's growing gig economy are forcing workers into bogus self-employment and free-riding on the welfare state, an influential committee of MPs has said. In a damning assessment of modern employment practices, the parliamentary work and pensions committee calls on the next government to bring laws up to date so that workers are better protected from exploitation. Given concerns about the rising number of workers classed as self-employed contractors with no access to sick benefit or holiday pay, it wants the default status for people in the gig economy to be "worker" rather than "self-employed"....The committee...highlighted that forcing people into self-employment as couriers, taxi drivers and other roles, rather than taking them on as employees, was depriving the state of badly needed tax revenues and creating an extra burden on the welfare system...The report comes ahead of the government's Taylor review of modern working practices, which is likely to recommend that self-employed gig economy workers should be granted greater protections and benefits....Monday's report also notes that self-employed people and employees receive almost equal access to the services funded by national insurance contributions "yet the self-employed contribute far less"...

[refers to Uber, Deliveroo, Amazon & Hermes]

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Report
12 December 2016

Sweated Labour - Uber and the 'gig-economy'

Author: Frank Field (Member of the British Parliament) & Andrew Forsey (member of Field's team)

Dec 2016

...The number of drivers in London operating with a private hire licence has almost doubled since the turn of the decade…A significant number of these new drivers work with Uber…classed by the company as being self-employed. The irresistible rise of Uber embodies the rapid growth since 2010 of what is called the ‘gig economy’…Drivers who have worked with Uber for several years were keen to note in their testimonies how pleased they were during their early months with the company. However, it was reported to us how the fares and conditions have so deteriorated in the past two years that, as a result, many drivers now feel trapped…There are four aspects of working life with Uber which we examine in this report, that seem to bear a close resemblance with what the Victorians would have called ‘sweated labour’...

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Article
12 December 2016

Uber is treating its drivers as sweated labour, says report

Author: Felicity Lawrence, Guardian (UK), 9 Dec 2016

9 Dec 2016

Uber treats its drivers as Victorian-style “sweated labour”, with some taking home less than the minimum wage, according to a report into its working conditions based on the testimony of dozens of drivers. Drivers at the taxi-hailing app company reported feeling forced to work extremely long hours, sometimes more than 70 a week, just to make a basic living, said Frank Field, the Labour MP and chair of the work and pensions committee. Field received testimony from 83 drivers who said they often took home significantly less than the “national living wage” after paying their running costs. The report says they described conditions that matched the Victorian definition of sweated labour: “when earnings were barely sufficient to sustain existence, hours of labour were such as to make lives of workers periods of ceaseless toil; and conditions were injurious to the health of workers and dangerous to the public”...Uber said it did not believe the cases in Field’s report were representative. It said recent polling had shown that nine in 10 of its drivers were satisfied with the money they made and enjoyed being able to balance work and family life...Field is calling for TfL and the Department for Transport to require Uber to banish “sweated labour” from its working practices before renewing its licence to operate when it ends in 2017. He also wants the government to reform employment law so that companies in the gig economy are required to give workers basic protections, including the national living wage.

 

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