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Unions should play greater role in collaborative economy, report suggests

Experts set out recommendations on worker and consumer rights and short-term lettings amid a rise in services such as Uber and Airbnb.

The collaborative economy includes services such as Uber
The collaborative economy includes services such as Uber

Trade unions should play a greater role in the so-called collaborative economy to help ensure workers are treated fairly, a expert panel’s report has suggested.

The group has set out a series of recommendations aimed at addressing concerns arising from peer-to-peer services such as Uber and Airbnb.

The Scottish Expert Advisory Panel on the Collaborative Economy was set up by the Scottish Government last April in the wake of an “exponential” increase in such services.

It was tasked with providing advice and expertise for policy development in this area.

Campaigners have raised concerns over the potential exploitation of those working in the collaborative economy, including low pay and a lack of employment benefits.

The panel recommended that collaborative economy platforms should be assessed as to how they offer fair work, and be required to report publicly and annually on their efforts to do so.

“Collective bargaining and action is a key part of mobilising change and improvements within the gig economy,” its report said.

“Trade unions need to increase their expertise and awareness of the impacts (both positive and negative) of collaborative economy platforms.”

The government should also support “experimentation between unions and emerging digital platforms who are supporting collective bargaining power for gig economy workers and are more attractive to younger, more tech-savvy workers”, the panel found.

On consumer rights, it recommended the government provide resources to develop “a secure, trusted place for people to access accurate information regarding their rights and responsibilities in the collaborative economy”.

The report also addressed problems arising from the increasing number of people using services such as Airbnb to rent out property.

Campaigners have complained the increasing popularity of the service, particularly in Edinburgh, is harming local communities and squeezing the rental market.

The panel recommended ministers “resource the collection of an evidence base in considering restrictions on short-term rentals”.

It stated that if the evidence demonstrates the need, then councils – specifically Edinburgh – should experiment with a 90-day annual limit for those who want to rent out their property.

It also recommended exploring the “viability of a seasonal system in central Edinburgh”, where the rules are more permissive during high season, and more restrictive the rest of the year.

Economy Secretary Keith Brown

Economy Secretary Keith Brown said: “I have been extremely impressed by the cooperative working of the panel, which has included trades unions and representatives of the industry.

“The trades union representation has ensured that the report includes a number of recommendations to improve the quality of employment opportunities within the collaborative economy, and that it encapsulates the fair work values which are central to our efforts for a more inclusive labour market.

“On consumer rights, we will provide funding to Citizens Advice Scotland for further scoping work on the report’s recommendations to ensure that consumers are aware of their rights and where to turn if something goes wrong when engaging in the collaborative economy.”

Mr Brown said the government would gather further evidence on short-term lets, particularly in Edinburgh, before considering the next steps.

Ministers will report back on the recommendations in the spring.

Greens MSP Andy Wightman said that while the report contains some “useful evidence and recommendations”, it is “dominated by proposals to experiment, gather data, and explore viability when what is need is action very soon to stop any further loss of homes and community in Edinburgh”.

Press Association


From Belfast Telegraph