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Union to sue UK Government for failing to protect precarious workers

Image credit: Gregor Fischer/DPA/PA Images

Union to sue UK Government for failing to protect precarious workers

The union for independent workers is suing the UK Government over its failure to offer financial assistance to gig economy workers, those in precarious work and the self-employed.

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) has sent a letter before action to the government outlining how the current £94.25 statutory sick pay arrangement discriminates against women, black, Asian and minority ethnic people (BAME) and gig economy workers.

The union is also arguing that the 80 per cent wage subsidies offered to businesses to keep people employed discriminated against self-employed workers, as they are not included in the scheme.

Additionally, IWGB said the arrangements “risk driving millions of workers into deeper poverty” and were also a major threat to public health because workers will be forced to continue working while sick or when they should be self-isolating in order to survive.

“Many low paid and precarious workers are on the front lines of this crisis distributing food, delivering medical samples, cleaning buildings and looking after children in need, yet they have the least protection,” IWGB general secretary Jason Moyer-Lee said.

“Many who become sick or need to self-isolate will receive little or no sick pay. Others who are laid off will not receive wage subsidies from the government because they are not employees. No one wants to be litigating right now, but we also cannot stand by while our members are exposed to unnecessary risk or driven into destitution.”

Alice Barker works as a food delivery rider in Edinburgh for all of the main companies, including UberEats, Just Eat and Deliveroo. She told Holyrood on Monday that she feared her work would dry up after major takeaway restaurants like McDonald’s and Nando’s announced they were closing.

“I am pretty tired, I worked the last four days, all day and I was planning on being off today,” she told Holyrood. “And then, I'm sure you've seen the different announcements about the big restaurant chains are starting to all close, so demand just went up, it went really busy.

“But, I think there's also the sense that today could be one of the last days that we're going to be able to work. I mean, we might have access, but [what] if there's no restaurants open?”

Barker said the delivery companies had been offering very little to help their gig economy workers.

“We already feel precarious, regardless of this,” she said.

“At the moment, these companies are offering nothing if they close, the sick pay and the precautions that they're trying to offer are not accessible, and they're not sufficient.

“But also, they are making loads of money from this. And that's the shocking thing. Our fees are still really low at the moment. UberEats and Just Eat have promised various financial assistance systems. However, I don't think anyone has been able to access any of these.”

She said she knows a number of riders who have had to self-isolate but cannot get any help from their employer because “they're asking for things like evidence that you're self-isolating, or that you've been given a sick note from your doctor, but no one's doing that”.

“To make this system accessible is so important, but also, if you do access it, the money they're offering is pathetic, quite frankly. The statuary stick pay of £94, and that's if you're over 25, I mean that is just shocking for everybody,” she said.

The UK Government has been contacted for its response to the allegations.

Read the most recent article written by Emily Woods - Getting to know the front line: food delivery rider Alice



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