Belfast Telegraph

Working practices review to hear evidence amid big rise in 'gig economy' workers

A Government review into working practices will take evidence from workers and business today amid a huge increase in those employed in the so-called gig economy.

Matthew Taylor, the chief executive of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) will launch a regional tour to listen to the views and experiences of workers, self-employed staff and companies.

The TUC said last week that waiters, care workers and education staff are among 660,000 more workers employed without guaranteed hours or basic employment rights in the past five years.

A study by the union organisation found the rise of 27% in so-called insecure work was being driven mainly by traditional industries rather than the new tech sector.

Matthew Taylor said: "Most people recognise that we need as many jobs as possible in our economy and that the flexibility of our labour market is a strength.

"But people also want work to be fair and decent and to offer opportunities for progression and fulfilment.

"The question is, what can we do to make work better without undermining our country's excellent record on job creation?

"We've started working through these complex issues questions and now is just the right time to hear the views of businesses, employees, the self-employed and the public as a whole."

Business minister Margot James said: "The Matthew Taylor review is hugely important in helping us understand whether employment rights need to change to keep up with the various new ways people can work.

"It is symbolic that Matthew will launch his country-wide regional tour in London, where thousands of people are already working in ways completely different from only a few years ago.

"I'd encourage everyone to take part in the review to make sure their views on the modern labour market are heard."

A plumber last week won the latest round in campaigns to win rights for the growing army of self-employed workers, when t he Court of Appeal rejected an appeal by Pimlico Plumbers on the employment status of former worker Gary Smith.

Other cases have involved ride-hailing app Uber, and courier firms Deliveroo and CitySprint.

The growth of insecure employment - those working without guaranteed hours or baseline employment rights - is costing the Government an estimated £4 billion a year, according to a new TUC report.

The rise in low-paid self-employment accounts for just over half of this bill, with the Government collecting billions less in income tax and National Insurance contributions, it was claimed.

The surge in zero-hours working has left an additional £1.9 billion hole in the public finances, a study found.

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "The huge rise in insecure work isn't just bad for workers, it's punching a massive hole in the public finances too.

"Zero-hours contracts and low-paid self-employment are costing the economy billions every year in lost tax revenues. That's money that could be spent on stopping the crisis in our schools and hospitals and making sure every elderly person gets decent care.

"Bosses who employ staff on shady contracts are cheating all of us. That's why we desperately need more decent jobs that pay a fair wage.

"Getting more people into unions is key. Workers in unionised workplaces are twice as likely to be on better-paid secure contracts."

RSA chief Mr Taylor told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that businesses could be using ambiguities in the system to avoid tax.

The former adviser to Tony Blair said: "I think all businesses will try to minimise their tax burden but because we have ambiguity over whether they are workers or self employed ... I think some businesses have designed themselves in order to try to make sure that people are defined as self-employed because there is a lower tax burden and that is one of the incentives driving the pattern of work that we have."

He went on: "We need to be clear about how we design the middle way which works for new and flexible businesses but also works in the public interest and avoids exploitation."

Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley said: "The news that insecure work is hurting public finances reinforces what we already knew - insecure work is bad for everyone.

"The gig economy offers flexibility but in reality leaves workers without basic rights and vulnerable to exploitation.

"Add to this the lost tax revenue which could be supporting greater social security or the NHS, and it's clear that the Government has been left standing by a rapidly changing world. It needs to get a grip on the gig economy."