The number of people working in the gig economy has almost tripled in England and Wales over the past five years, according to new research by the TUC.

The union body warns that, as a result, even more workers are ending up on low pay and experiencing poor conditions.

According to the TUC, gig workers face a two-fold challenge. Firstly, their bosses often falsely claim they are self-employed with no rights, including no right to trade union recognition.

Secondly, those who can prove they are workers can still end up with far fewer rights than conventional employees, with many missing out on basic rights like the national minimum wage, paid holidays, or sick pay.

For instance, Oxford University’s Fairwork recently published research which showed that household names in the gig economy, such as Amazon’s delivery arm Amazon Flex, are failing to meet the most basic requirements on workers’ pay and rights.

Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) workers are also overrepresented compared to white workers in the gig economy. The TUC says that boosting gig workers’ rights is therefore vital to tackling the structural racism that holds back BME workers in the labour market.

Despite its rapid expansion, however, the TUC points out that the power of the gig economy took a hit this year when the Supreme Court ruled that Uber drivers are workers – not self-employed – and are therefore entitled to basic rights they had been denied (weekly LELR 717).

The TUC is calling on the government to stop letting gig economy employers off the hook and is calling for workers to have greater trade union and individual rights including:

  • A right of access to workplaces for unions, including a digital right of access, to enable them to talk to workers about what membership can offer them.
  • A new definition of what constitutes a “worker” which covers all existing employees and workers and gives them the full range of legal rights.
  • A ban on zero hours contracts, by giving workers the right to a contract reflecting their normal hours of work and adequate notice of shifts.

To read the report in full, click here.