Unions needed more than ever in the gig economy

COMMENT: Firms must not be allowed to hoodwink their employees into thinking they are independent contractors

Thursday, 26th May

Raymond Johnson 3

Raymond Johnson in Regent’s Park Road

THE sight of luminous-uniformed bikers zipping about the streets as they make deliveries for whatever the latest app fad may be is a common feature of modern society that is here to stay.

While companies like Getir depend on being accessible and maintaining a highly visible public profile, they appear not so easy to get hold of when a staff member gets stabbed at work, (Getir rider knifed by men in balaclavas in Primrose Hill, May 26).

Raymond Johnson’s ordeal is a small window into an industry that often fails to protect an often marginalised workforce struggling in uncertain times.

While it is not so obvious why people feel the need to get their groceries so urgently, it is clear that shopping habits are changing. As the market adapts, a lack of basic employment rights is becoming normalised in the “gig economy”.

People do, but should not, feel afraid to question how our employers would respond to circumstances like a significant work-related injury.

Recently launched unions like the Apps, Drivers and Couriers Union and independent Workers of Great Britain have done some great work in challenging companies over their obligations.

There was a major ruling in December last year in the Supreme Court against Uber that, it is hoped, will lead to the restructuring of the private hire industry and wider gig economy in general.

Firms must not be allowed to hoodwink their employees into thinking they are independent contractors. Passengers contract with the operator not the driver, just as food groceries are bought from firms like Getir not the rider who turns up at your door.

This is an important legal distinction that has only been achieved through the campaigning work of unions and committed lawyers.

In the case of Uber drivers, it was not Transport for London and the Mayor of London that succeeded in stopping exploitation.

There are many people, for example, sneering at the RMT over potential tube strikes on the Jubilee weekend without thinking about the bigger picture.

Unions protect our basic dignity, along with decent pay and ensuring safety rules are met. There is a ripple effect that makes for a more caring and less cut-throat society.

Unions may well have a crucial role too in countering the “cost of living crisis”. Evidently, we cannot rely on the politicians or government to step up.

So why not mark the Queen’s Jubilee next weekend by joining a union? The fightback starts with you.

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