Report by Kelle Howson, Callum Cant, Alessio Bertolini, Matthew Cole and Mark Graham. Blog by James Dunn-Williamson, Kelle Howson and Pablo Aguera.
Fairwork researchers present a new policy brief urging for stronger regulation of digital labour platforms in the UK.
Uber lost its bid today in the UK High Court to skirt an earlier unbinding opinion of the Supreme Court, that it should contract directly with passengers as opposed to requiring drivers to individually contract with passengers. Sounds complicated? That’s because it is. This represents yet another hard-fought step by Uber drivers in the UK towards having their minimum rights as workers recognised. Led by the App Drivers and Couriers’ Union, litigation on this issue has been going on for more than five years. While the ruling is very good news for Uber drivers and other platform workers in the UK, it is the result of an extremely complex, lengthy and costly union-led battle to get Uber to step up to its’ responsibilities towards drivers. It should not have to be this hard for platform workers to assert their minimum labour rights.
That’s why Fairwork has today published a new working paper making the case for responsive regulation of the UK platform economy, and laying out key policy recommendations.
The number of people in the UK working for a digital labour platform more than doubled between 2016 and 2021, from 6 to 15 per cent of the adult population, a total of 4.4 million workers.
The growth of platforms has outpaced labour enforcement in almost all countries. It is clear now that regulatory action is needed to tackle their predatory and exploitative practices, which have become widespread and institutionalised.
Increasingly, workers in the platform economy are taking their employers to court and winning. The landmark case of Uber vs Aslam in the UK provides an empowering example: the UK Supreme Court ruled that Uber drivers are entitled to limb (b) employment status and are not, as the company claimed, self-employed. Consequently, Uber drivers are entitled to at least some of the benefits of employees, such as the payment of the legal minimum wage for all working time. For the millions of platform workers in the UK, this legal victory was good news. However, forcing workers to litigate their rights on a case by case basis remains prohibitive, inefficient, and unfair. Where regulation does exist, enforcement has been woefully lacking. Platforms often undermine or flat out ignore court decisions.
Crucially, legislation must avoid endorsing or legitimising platforms’ characterisation of their workers as independent and autonomous, or the assertion that extending full labour rights to platform workers would endanger livelihoods. Employment reform in the UK must be based on the ultimate objective of upholding the same level of rights and protections for all workers.
Fairwork strongly urges lawmakers in the UK to adopt our proposals. We will continue to independently assess platforms and rate them against our five principles of fair work. You can explore the 2021 platforms ratings for the UK here. The next round of UK ratings will be available early next year.
If you would like to read the policy brief in full, click the link below.