How Will the Outbreak of COVID-19 Impact Workers in the Gig Economy?
We spoke to a few experts on how the coronavirus outbreak has impacted gig economy workers. Firstly, we explore the initial impact this situation may have. On the following pages, which you can explore below, we touch on how behind legislation is in this area, how Covid-19 has seen the rise of gig economy workers and how they are denied basic employment law rights.
The rise of gig economy workers
Deborah McGargle, Chief Legal Officer at Seedlegals
Never before have we experienced anything like this in our lifetimes. It has been said on many occasions already but these are unprecedented times. Who could have predicted just a few weeks ago that we would have had a weekend with baron cities; no bars, restaurants or clubs open? Sadly, that’s the situation we are currently in, which has put the role of the gig economy back on the front pages.
Previously seen as the expendable resource, with businesses able to pick and choose as they please, now they’re on the front line as an essential resource to help keep Britain moving.
With cafes and shops shutting to normal patrons, gig economy workers are stepping into the breach. Working with thousands of establishments to deliver produce and keep their business going, as well as serving the general public who are unable to leave their homes for fear of spreading or catching COVID-19.
However, in spite of this, the very large majority are working with no guarantees on continued employment. These workers are now lauded as part of the solution so surely, we must change the laws to protect them further as they’re doing for us right now?
At the moment, the key issue is around tax and the cost to employers, leading to the rise in popularity of zero-hour contracts, which I think is simply an instrument to be abused that requires urgent innovation.
I predict that the number of workers in the gig economy will surge over the coming weeks as other businesses shut, hopefully just for the duration of the virus, and their staff will be looking for alternatives.
This is a huge opportunity for on-demand businesses as we expect many of them will see sharp rises in growth and sales based on our new way of living. It is essential that their workers are properly taken care of and not signed up on agreements that merely protect the company rather than the individual.
We’ve seen the Chancellor offer pledges to permanent and self-employed workers recently to help navigate this period, which was very needed, however, we must use this as an opportunity to reset the boundaries on how we define workers. Individuals in the gig economy and many others are still seen as different from other employees. We need to treat these people fairly, which means continuing to enable their freedom but provide with increased necessary inclusion and support, opposed to cutting adrift as often as desired.
Clearly, in order to make these changes, companies will need to be helped further by the government. At the moment, the key issue is around tax and the cost to employers, leading to the rise in popularity of zero-hour contracts, which I think is simply an instrument to be abused that requires urgent innovation.
Employees must be seen as more than just a cost. With everything going on in the world today, one’s mental health and the security of belonging is paramount. I’m hoping that companies continue to invest more in the emotional support and wellbeing of their workers and believe it should be implemented through government requirements. Simply adding in conditions such as minimum notice periods and sick leave, all things natural to any permanent worker, would make a huge difference to those currently putting themselves through hardship to help others as best they can.