The number of people working for gig economy platforms in England and Wales has almost tripled over the last five years, leading to concerns about pay and working conditions for this growing number of staff.
New research published by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) suggests 4.4 million people are working for gig economy platforms at least once a week in England and Wales.
This research shows that three in 20 (14.7 per cent) working adults surveyed now work via gig economy platforms at least once a week.
This is compared to around one in 20 (5.8 per cent) in 2016 and just over two in 20 (11.8 per cent) in 2019.
Many workers are now accessing gig economy jobs using online platforms, including services such as Uber, Deliveroo or Upwork which entail completing tasks such as driving, delivering or carrying out software development.
However, the study warns that many workers use gig economy jobs to supplement other forms of income, indicating gig workers are likely to earn an income through multiple sources which can lead to very long working days.
In particular, the number of workers carrying out delivery or driving has quadrupled since 2016, up to 8.9 per cent. Similarly, workers undertaking remote online digital tasks has almost tripled, now reaching 11.9 per cent in 2021.
This spiralling of the gig economy, the TUC has warned, could lead to more workers on low pay and experiencing poor working conditions.
As such, the TUC have called for greater individual rights for the gig economy workforce, including:
- A New Zealand-style right of access to workplaces for unions, including a digital right of access, to enable them to talk to workers about what membership can offer them.
- A new ‘worker’ definition that covers all existing employees and workers and gives them the full range of legal rights.
- A ban on zero hours contracts, by giving workers the rights to a contract reflecting their normal hours of work and adequate notice of shifts.
This comes after recent research indicated that almost half of the public (41 per cent) did not believe gig economy workers were being remunerated fairly.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
Everyone deserves to be treated fairly at work. But millions of working people are having to rely on casual and insecure gig economy work to make ends meet – often on top of other jobs.
Gig economy platforms are using new technologies to carry out the age-old practice of worker exploitation. Too often gig workers are denied their rights and are treated like disposable labour.
The Supreme Court Uber judgment earlier this year was just the beginning. Unions won’t rest until pay and conditions have improved for gig workers.
It’s time for change. Ministers must stop letting gig economy platforms off the hook. That means giving all gig workers trade union access, banning zero hours contracts and boosting workers’ rights across the board.
Professor Neil Spencer, Head of the Statistical Services Consulting Unit at the University of Hertfordshire, added:
Our research shows that the gig economy is a substantial part of the UK’s workforce and I expect it to continue to grow. ‘Gig’ work can offer flexibility, but many workers also experience lower pay and poor working conditions.
Those classified as self-employed also have less rights than employees. It is vital that pay and conditions for gig workers are improved to protect those who rely on this work as a source of income.
*This research has been documented in the TUC report ‘Platformisation and the Pandemic: Changes in Workers’ Experiences of Platform Work in England and Wales, 2016-2021′. To obtain this data, BritainThinks conducted an online survey which was carried out between 12th and 21st July 2021 with a sample of 2,201 workers in England and Wales.
Monica Sharma is an English Literature graduate from the University of Warwick. As Editor for HRreview, her particular interests in HR include issues concerning diversity, employment law and wellbeing in the workplace. Alongside this, she has written for student publications in both England and Canada. Monica has also presented her academic work concerning the relationship between legal systems, sexual harassment and racism at a university conference at the University of Western Ontario, Canada.