The ‘gig economy’ has become a somewhat trendy term in recent years. It’s often casually used to depict a new breed of liberated worker, free from the hellish grips of a monotonous 9-5. It’s synonymous with brands such as Deliveroo and Uber, who provide a platform for their ‘workers’ to do so flexibly, as and when suits them. These platforms have also completely transformed the customer experience. Technological progress has brought to life relatively simple ideas and reshaped how we interact as consumers. Throughout the UK, Uber is now available in 20 locations and Deliveroo in almost every major town and city. Moving from A to B or having food delivered to you is easier than ever before.
For the consumer, this is an ideal scenario. Restaurants which otherwise wouldn’t deliver now have the capacity to do so. Equally, travelling in a taxi throughout central London no longer costs the same as a flight. However, the emergence of this new phenomenon has opened up the debate on what it means to be a worker. I’m sure many would argue that the inherent nature of this type of work removes any serious questions about workers rights. Having the option to work flexibly is a luxury in itself. This partially holds true for a university student who is earning some money alongside their studies by hopping on their bike and delivering some Mexican food. However the trade that takes place is between slight flexibility and a complete loss of the traditional rights associated with workers. These include a guarantee of a minimum wage, statutory sick pay, redundancy payments etc. This is because workers tied to companies such as Uber and Deliveroo are deemed ‘self-employed.’ Whilst I am no expert in employment law, I find it hard to conceive that an Uber driver or Deliveroo rider is self-employed. The business models of both of these companies are entirely reliant on these networks of drivers and riders and as such, surely their employment status should reflect this?
Equally, we must consider that the majority of Uber drivers probably don’t enjoy the flexibility on offer but instead work ridiculously long hours for very little pay in order to get by financially. The rapid and expansive growth of the company has meant that many drivers formerly associated with traditional taxi companies have had little choice but to sign up with Uber in order to stay in the trade. Perhaps then, we as consumers should rethink how often we use services which seemingly exploit their workers under the façade of offering them a more convenient, flexible lifestyle? However, statistics suggest that almost half of the population of London have used Uber before. When Transport for London removed the company’s license back in September 2017, within days, 800,000 Londoners had rushed to sign a petition urging Sadiq Khan to reverse the decision. This then, seems unlikely. Additionally, if we are to stop using these services then it is of course the drivers and riders who will relatively speaking, end up suffering the most.
It should be noted that the gig economy is quickly expanding into other sectors, which will undoubtedly offer some exciting opportunities for genuinely flexible and creative working. However, in the case of companies such as Uber and Deliveroo, the government should act quickly to ensure that traditional working rights are upheld and exploitation halted.
Article by Zach Callander