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GMB’s victory for Hermes workers must not be a one off

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Last week's landmark legal ruling that Hermes couriers are workers was important, but there's still a long way to go to ensure gig economy workers are treated fairly
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Gig economy workers shouldn't have to fight for basic workplace rights case by case

The Taylor Review into modern employment practices was an opportunity to make a real difference for working people.

Yet we were clear last summer that it was not the game-changer needed to end insecurity and exploitation at work.

In our responses to the Taylor Review consultations, we argued that the need for change is pressing.

Nearly four million people in the UK are now in insecure work, which often means low pay, economic hardship and a lack of control over their working lives. People need sweeping changes to end the imbalance of power at work.

Here are four basic things that should happen if workers are to be treated fairly:

1. Agency workers should get the going rate for the job

The priority must be to scrap the ‘Swedish derogation' which lets bosses get away with paying agency workers less than directly employed staff who are doing the exact same job.

Companies use this loophole to hire agency workers on a long-term basis to save costs and undercut the pay and conditions of permanent staff. Some agency workers are paid £4 less per hour, and also lose out on holidays and overtime rates.

Agency workers aren’t second-class citizens – they deserve the rate for the job.

No tweaks to the rules can compensate agency workers for the loss of equal pay rights. The derogation must go.

2. Giving everyone the workplace rights they deserve

Millions are missing out on workplace rights due to their employment status.

Agency and zero-hours workers are most in need of protection, yet they are the very ones missing out.

Many are hired and fired at will, have no right to return to their job after having a baby, and miss out on redundancy pay if work dries up.

That’s why we’re calling for employment status rules to be modernised so that all workers enjoy the same floor of rights as employees. This includes support for working parents, trade union rights and protection from unfair dismissal.

Employers shouldn’t be able to dodge their employment responsibilities by falsely labelling someone as self-employed. The burden of proof in employment cases should be reversed so workers are presumed to have rights unless their employer shows they are genuinely self-employed.

3. Banning zero-hours contracts

Knowing how many hours you will work and how much you’ll get paid for it is vital for any worker.

Yet zero-hours workers are offered shifts at the last minute or turn up for work to find their shift is cancelled.

This makes it impossible to plan childcare, and many workers struggle to cover household bills as well.

Zero-hours contracts should be banned with workers having better access to guaranteed hours. And if work is cancelled at short notice, workers should always be paid in full.

4. Enforcement of employment rights

Millions are missing out on their legal rights, with workers owed £1.6 billion each year in holiday pay.

To make a genuine difference the government must:

  • Support the role of trade unions in enforcing workplace rights
  • Properly fund enforcement agencies so they can do their job
  • Ensure firms can be held to account for their supply chains by establishing joint and several liability for employment standards

The way ahead

The Taylor Review shouldn’t be left to gather dust on the bookshelf or become just another talk piece for think-tanks.

But ultimately, collective action in the workplace remains the most effective way to reduce insecurity and prevent workplace exploitation.

So a new framework of rights is needed if all workers are to have a say on issues that matter to them most. This includes rights for unions to access workplaces to tell workers about the benefits of union membership, and measures to promote and extend collective bargaining.

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