People employed in the gig economy must be protected from “appalling” working practices, MPs claim

Labour MP Frank Field, chair of the parliamentary work and pensions committee. Photo: Anthony Devlin

Labour MP Frank Field, chair of the parliamentary work and pensions committee. Photo: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Drivers employed in the so-called gig economy should have worker status to protect them from the 'appalling' practices they face, MPs are urging.

The work and pensions committee called on the government to close loopholes which lead to workers being exploited because of 'bogus' self-employment.

An inquiry by the committee – which took evidence from firms including Uber, Deliveroo, Amazon and Hermes – found 'starkly contrasting' pictures of their employment practices and labelled as 'fiction' the idea promoted by companies that flexible work was contingent on self-employed status.

MORE: A guide to the gig economyMORE: Clarification needed on status of gig economy workers, health experts sayThe MPs said the freedom companies have to deny people the rights that come with worker status failed to protect employees from exploitation and also leads to 'substantial' tax losses and a possible strain on the welfare state.

Labour MP Frank Field, who chairs the committee, said: 'Companies in the gig economy are free-riding on the welfare state, avoiding all their responsibilities to profit from this bogus 'self-employed' designation while ordinary taxpayers pick up the tab.

'This inquiry has convinced me of the need to offer 'worker' status to the drivers who work with those companies as the default option.

'This status would be a much fairer reflection of the work they undertake which seems to fall between what most of us would think of as 'self-employed' or 'employed'.

Most Read

'It would also protect them from some of the appalling practices that have been reported to the committee in this inquiry.'

Mr Field said a recent announcement by Uber that it will give sickness cover to its drivers for a £2 per week fee was 'just another way of pushing costs onto the workforce'.

He added: 'It is up to government to close the loopholes that are currently being exploited by these companies, as part of a necessary and wide ranging reform to the regulation of corporate behaviour.'

The committee, which cut short its inquiry because of the General Election, said self-employment could be 'highly desirable', but could also be 'deeply negative', allowing firms to evade responsibility for their workers' wellbeing.

Uber announced last week it is offering its workers a range of benefits such as sickness and injury cover which it says is the first of its kind for self-employed drivers.

An employment tribunal decided last year that Uber's drivers were wrongly classified as self-employed and should be classed as 'workers', although the company is challenging the ruling.

An Uber spokesman said: 'The vast majority of drivers who use Uber tell us they want to remain their own boss as that is the main reason why they signed up to us in the first place.'