Tech ‘can help’ gig economy challenge

Matthew Taylor’s long-awaited review of the world of work demands an overhaul of employment law, to clarify the grey area between a fully employed and a self-employed person. It says the digital innovation driving the change can help address the challenges of the gig economy.

gig economyGood Work, the major government-commissioned review by RSA chief executive and former Blair advisor Matthew Taylor, calls for a new category of worker – a dependent contractor – who should receive benefits like sick pay and annual leave.

Taylor’s chunky 116-page review of modern working practices is designed to address problems faced by the 1.1m people now working in the UK gig economy.

Right now companies insist that workers falling within this bracket are self-employed and can work when they want. In return, say the companies, they should not receive the same benefits as full-time employees, such as the guaranteed minimum wage, sick pay, holiday entitlement or a pension.

But self-employed status also means that companies can legitimately avoid paying national insurance. Taylor says digitally driven gig economy firms like Uber and Deliveroo have changed the economy for workers and consumers alike.

“Platform-based working offers welcome opportunities for genuine two way flexibility and can provide opportunities for those who may not be able to work in more conventional ways,” he says.

But he says that firms with “control and supervision” of their workers should pay a full range of benefits, including national insurance.

The review makes “a new offer to the self-employed”, reflecting the fact that there are more self-employed people in the UK than ever, with many “now seizing the opportunities presented by the gig economy to supplement their income through, essentially, self-employed earnings”.

Taylor says government should “recognise the wide variety of forms of modern self-employment and should act to support and protect those who need help”.

Earlier this year, courier firm City Sprint lost a court case claiming that their drivers were self-employed or were actually workers employed mainly by one firm. Deliveroo has said it would consider paying holiday and pension rights if the law changed.

Taylor believes that “more effort should be made to harness the potential of digital platforms to offer support to self-employed people”.

He says digital innovation could help address problems like national insurance and taxation. “Government should invest time and money in technology, encouraging digital solutions to support self-employed people comply with their legal requirements as well as think about the future, through the provision of a catalyst environment,” says the review.

Tech-enabled models could allow gig workers log on at any time and see their earnings potential in real time, says the review, adding that “more effort has to be placed on measuring quality of work through agreed metrics and better data, with a focus on particular sectors”.

good-work-taylor-review-modern-working-practicesTech for good accelerator Bethnal Green Ventures recently launched a ‘worker tech’ programme designed to promote “a new generation of pro-worker innovation”. With the publication of the Taylor review, this programme looks timely.

Trade unions this week dismissed the Taylor review as a missed opportunity and “a spectacular failure” in not tackling the insecurities that go with short-term contractual work.

Taylor sets out seven steps “towards fair and decent work” in his review. “It now falls to the prime minister, the government and parliament to decide now to respond to our recommendations,” he says.

“If policymakers and the public come to recognise the vital importance of good work to social justice, economic dynamism and civic engagement then the efforts of the review team and all who have supported us will have been richly rewarded.”

Taylor review – digital case studies

  • The Black Car Fund – benefits and non-profit insurance platform for limousine and black car drivers in New York
  • – petition website lobbying for workers’ rights in the US, credited with prompting change in maternity and paternity leave at Netflix
  • Estonian Tax and Custom Board – works with Uber in Estonia to pilot a collaborative project which simplifies taxation for sharing economy workers
  • City of Learning’69 – uses digital badges as well as resources within cities such as museums, libraries, workplaces and colleges.
  • ‘World Chefs’ have worked with DigitalMe and City & Guilds to create digital badges that cover a range of levels and different specialisms within the culinary sector.

Podcast: Making the gig economy work for everyone, with gig economy with Brhmie Balaram (RSA) Trebor Scholz (The New School, NY) and Olivia Sibony (Co-Founder, Grub Club)

Good work: the Taylor review of modern working practices