Brussels, Belgium, 2011
Brussels, Belgium, 2011

Independent workers health and safety was not protected

The IWGB Trade Union has won a judicial review against the UK government with the High Court ruling that the government failed to properly implement EU health and safety directives in relation to gig economy workers during the pandemic. The judgement means that gig economy workers are entitled to the same rights as employees including being provided with Personal Protective Equipment by the business they are working for, and the right to stop work in response to serious and imminent danger.

According to the IWGB, one in ten adults engage in gig economy work in the UK, which is 4.7 million people. The legal argument presented to the court was that the EU Directives require member states to give workers health and safety protections, whereas the UK only gave employees this protection when they transposed the EU regulations into domestic legislation. This means that workers are unprotected which was not the intention of the EU directives.

Many key workers that have supported the UK through the pandemic are gig economy workers such as drivers and couriers may have been exposed to serious health risks due to not being supplied with PPE, and/or being unable to stop work due to the pandemic. This was borne out by research undertaken by the London School of Economics (LSE) which found that these gig workers reported being worried about the possible detrimental health impact of continuing work, but felt they had no option due to fear of losing future work. You can read more about the LSE research here.

This high court ruling is extremely positive as it should ensure that the government remembers to treat all types of worker fairly, and it reminds them of the importance of the gig economy. It is disappointing that many such workers felt that they had no option but to continue working despite very real health concerns, and even more disappointing that they were not provided with the PPE needed to protect themselves. Whilst it is certainly the case that gig economy workers are not employees, that does not mean that they should not their health protected whilst at work, and it is right for the businesses engaging them to be responsible for ensuring this. Let’s hope that this important workforce finally gets the recognition it deserves.

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