04 October 2018
As the UK hospitality industry suffers disruption by disgruntled workers it is a timely reminder that there is a large UK population of workers who are feeling exploited by the gig economy and lack of employment rights.
There are now so many workers in the gig economy that it has become a fertile recruiting ground for trade unions, and of course for the Labour Party, as it presents an opportunity for workers to secure better legal rights through Labour policies recently highlighted at their conference.
Corporates treating workers as self-employed, when in reality they are fully dependent on the company for all their income, are probably facing an expensive backlash and Labour would be redefining the self-employment criteria.
While trade union membership has steadily reduced over recent decades employers must appreciate that union decline has been in the context of workers gaining better employment protection, especially driven by the EU. Employees felt less need of unions as from the 1970’s tribunals came to offer legal remedies instead.
As large numbers now feel less protected, such as by an exploitative gig economy or by fear, justified or not, of Brexit impact on personal rights, the opportunity for trade union resurgence is there. If Labour get the opportunity to reform Employment law as they plan, trade unions will enjoy a new lease of life and a great chance to strengthen their bargaining power. The structure of UK industrial relations could quickly become fundamentally different from everything since Margaret Thatcher’s era.
If the Government could think better about long term issues apart from Brexit it may be wise to revisit what employment protection means and to recognise that union power is not as irrelevant as they appear to treat it. Union solidarity has been a powerful response to exploitative employers in the past, and unions will undoubtedly rise to that challenge again in the absence of adequate individual protection.