The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) and two Uber drivers have filed a legal challenge against the UK government with the High Court "over its failure to provide satisfactory income and sickness protection to millions of low paid and self-employed during the COVID-19 pandemic".
The claimants will argue that this failure constitutes discrimination against self-employed limb workers, BAME workers and women.
They say the income protection provided by the government’s proposed Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) is significantly worse than that provided to employees through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, constituting discrimination against self-employed limb workers, many of whom work in the "gig economy”. In particular:
There is an unacceptable delay as the scheme will only be introduced in June
It excludes workers that became self-employed after 6 April 2019
It excludes those who derive less than 50% of their income from self-employment
It doesn’t cover on-going overheads most self-employed workers have.
The claimants will further argue that the current £95.85 per week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) arrangement discriminates against women, BAME workers and workers in the so-called “gig economy” for whom these payments are not enough to survive on or in some cases not even available at all.
They say the current arrangements are also a major threat to public health, since many workers are forced to continue working while sick or while they should be self-isolating in order to survive.
IWGB member and claimant on the case Ahmad Adiatu says: "I started working as an Uber driver a few years ago thinking it would be enough to provide for me and my family, but now with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic it has become impossible.
"As an Uber driver, costs such as car maintenance, insurance and congestion charge can reach over £1,000 a month. Now I have no money, so can't even renew my private hire license. With virtually no income coming in, we've been struggling to get by and we are behind on our rent. My wife, who is now breastfeeding, has even had to sell her phone in order to buy food for herself and the children. I've always worked hard and provided for my family. I just want to be able to continue doing that.”
IWGB member and Uber driver Sarja Richards, who is providing a witness statement to the High Court says: "I worked 60 hours this week for £40 and I’m three weeks in arrears on my rent. I have three children counting on me. How am I supposed to explain to them that we can’t pay our bills? The government’s promised assistance is not enough, doesn’t cover the huge expenses we have as Uber drivers and will come too late. How are we expected to survive until June? We need real action and we need it now.”
IWGB General Secretary Dr. Jason Moyer-Lee says: "Statutory sick pay has never been more important, for both low paid workers as well as for society more generally, than it is now. So it must be extended to cover more people and set at a rate which actually allows workers to go off sick and follow public health advice. Similarly, it is crucial that the shortcomings of the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme are fixed so as to avoid further unnecessary destitution. It is unfortunate we have had to litigate to make these points, but this government has left us and our members with no choice."
Rosa Curling, solicitor from law firm Leigh Day, said: "It is vital, now more than ever, that the incomes of gig economy workers are protected, ensuring these hard-working people are not left destitute during this time of crisis. Current measures put in place by the government do not go far enough. While employees are guaranteed 80% of their salary up to a cap of £2500 per month, gig economy workers do not have the same assurances. This lack of protection disproportionately affects those in BAME communities and women. Urgent action must be taken to address this omission.”
Solicitors from Leigh Day and barristers from Old Square Chambers are acting for the union and its members.
The IWGB is one of the UK’s leading unions for precarious workers and workers in the so-called ‘gig-economy’.
It has previously taken strategic legal action against the UK government, Uber, Addison Lee, Deliveroo, eCourier, City Sprint, The Doctors Laboratory and The University of London.
Image credit: TaxiPoint/IWGB