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Legal action looks to push Government to extend health and safety rights to "gig economy" workers

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) is taking legal action against the government to secure health and safety protections for hundreds of thousands of ‘gig economy’ workers.

The union has sent a pre-action protocol letter and will argue, as part of its judicial review, that the UK Government has failed in its obligation to transpose health and safety directives from EU law into UK law. Whereas UK health and safety law only protects employees, EU law extends these protections, which include the right to adequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), to all those classified as workers.

Losing the review would force the Government to extend health and safety protections to all ‘workers’, including hundreds of thousands in the so-called “gig economy”, such as Uber and Addison Lee drivers, Pimlico plumber workers, and medical and parcel couriers.

1 in 10 adults engage in gig economy work, which accounts for at least 4.7 million people working in the UK with little to no health and safety protections.

Jason Moyer-Lee, IWGB General Secretary, said: "As the Government looks to ease the lockdown in the midst of the pandemic, health and safety at work has never been more important. It is crucial that exploitative employers like Uber know they must protect the health and safety of their workers and that the Government brings the criminal prosecutions necessary to enforce this law. The UK is already compelled by EU law to extend health and safety protections to workers; it's a shame the Government would rather litigate than comply."  

Hanna-Beth Scaife, courier for Stuart says: “I suffer with Fibromyalgia and CFS (ME) which puts me at high-risk from COVID-19, yet I’m one of thousands of couriers denied proper PPE at work. Just because we’re self employed doesn’t mean we’re at any less of a risk so why does PPE seem to be an afterthought for us? Ignoring our health and safety means ignoring that of the millions of people we deliver to, many of them self-isolating with COVID-19 symptoms or shielding at home because they’re high-risk. Protecting couriers would help protect the whole country.”

Dr Hina J Shahid, chair, Muslim Doctors Association, says: "Migrant and ethnic minority communities are more likely to be key workers in the informal sector without access to health, safety and income protection. The prevailing attitude that not all lives matter equally, doesn't just mean escalated rates of death and serious illness amongst these groups. It also poses a grave threat to public health and heightens everyone's risk of infection. Our ability to control the spread of this virus will depend directly on the rights and protections given to all those on the frontline."

Elliott Kenton, a lawyer specialising in health and safety litigation at Fieldfisher, said: "The government's 'Covid-secure' guidance comprises eight sets pf guidelines for businesses which are either currently open or are anticipated to be opened this week – namely construction and outdoor work; factories, plants and warehouses; homes; labs and research facilities; offices and contact centres; restaurants offering takeaway or delivery; shops and branches; and those working with vehicles.

"There have been calls from the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) to extend the duty of care to safeguard health and safety to gig economy workers.

"An employer has a duty to protect the health and safety of their employees and others that may be affected by their business. Therefore, health and safety law is arguably broad enough to afford protections to non-employees such as the self-employed and gig workers.

"Some taxi drivers who work for ride hailing app providers, courier drivers and restaurant delivery drivers may benefit from the new guidelines for those working with vehicles and in the takeaway food business, but generally, gig workers and their representative unions may feel that this guidance does not go far enough to protect them we could see a spate of judicial review cases on this point."

The union is also taking legal action against the Government over the way they say the Covid-19 income support schemes discriminate against limb (b) workers by providing them with less protection than employees, disproportionately affecting BAME and women workers in the ‘gig economy’.


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