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Do rights for gig workers not matter anymore to the UK Labour party?

Under Margaret Thatcher's leadership, the Conservative party in the UK introduced radical neoliberal reforms, including anti-trade union laws which significantly curtailed workers' rights. Thirteen years of Labour party rule from 1997 to 2010 did nothing to reverse any of these changes. With the Labour party seemingly on the verge of taking power again following 14 years of consecutive Conservative government where workers' rights have once again been under assault, there are growing fears that history may repeat itself

The FT reported on Thursday [17 August] that "Labour has watered down plans to strengthen workers’ rights", with rights for gig workers being one of the main sources of this dilution. Labour's national policy forum last month decided to get rid of the party's 2021 pledge to create a single employee status, a policy which would have ended Britain's experiment with the 'third status' between employee and self-employed. Instead, Labour would consult on whether a "simpler framework" can “properly capture the breadth of employment relationships in the UK” while ensuring that workers can “benefit from flexible working where they choose to do so”

To re-cap, the UK's limb (b) worker status, established in 1996, is supposed to "extend the coverage of certain employment rights to a wider group of individuals than just employees, protecting a larger number of individuals who are in dependent working relationships but are not employees," according to the government. Limb (b) workers get the minimum wage and an additional 12% above their standard pay rate to cover statutory holiday pay, but they don't have any rights against unfair dismissal nor access to statutory sick pay. Also, they pay tax as if they are a self-employed person, which meant they couldn't access furlough during the pandemic and the company they work for pays no labour tax (known as National Insurance in the UK). 

Uber claimed that its drivers didn't meet limb (b) status, blowing a hole in the argument that a third status can help resolve the problem of bogus self-employment. However, Uber's position was defeated at the Supreme Court in 2021 where the judge found that Uber drivers are not self-employed. Uber now contracts UK drivers on the basis of limb (b), but does not pay waiting time, despite the Supreme Court ordering them to do so. It's not clear exactly how many workers in the UK are operating under limb (b) status.

A third status exists in many European countries and the platforms are usually its leading advocate, even when self-employment remains their preference. The arguments against a third status are obvious: workers who are actually employees may start being hired through limb (b) by corporations seeking to cut costs. This new opportunity to downgrade workers' rights makes limb (b) status a threat to the working class in general. Also, the third status doesn't address the so-called 'legal grey area' of platform workers because the point of contention simply shifts; whereas before platforms argue that their 'partners' are not employees, now they argue that they are not limb (b) workers.

Given this background, why has Labour decided to scrap its policy of scrapping the limb (b) worker status? The FT article suggests it has nothing whatsoever to do with the substance of the issues at stake, as no policy justification at all is given. It merely seems to be about Labour part leader Keir Starmer's desire to "woo corporate leaders and discredit Tory claims that his party is 'anti-business'", according to the FT. Anyone who has been following the Labour party's trajectory under Starmer's leadership will not be the least bit surprised by this.

Labour's new position puts them at odds with the EU Platform Work Directive, where a third status was rejected early on by the European Commission. A third status is strongly opposed by the Socialists & Democrats group in the European Parliament, which Labour used to be part of. It's also worth noting that a third status may not be as uniformly 'pro-business' as Starmer believes, as it creates an uneven playing field between companies hiring workers on an employee and limb (b) basis. The third status is specifically a pro-platform policy, rather than business in general.

Finally, Labour may want to consider new data released this week from the Trades Union Congress, which found that the number of ethnic minorities in the UK in insecure work increased by a huge 132% from 2011 to 2022. Those 11 years coincide with the rise of the gig economy, which has a disproportionate number of workers who are ethnic minorities. While the number of white people in insecure work rose from 10.5 to 10.8% in that time, the equivalent figures for ethnic minorities rose from 12.2% to 17.8%. TUC General Secretary Paul Nowak described the findings as "structural racism in action". 

"Too many Black and ethnic minority workers are trapped in low-paid, insecure jobs with limited rights and protections, and treated like disposable labour," Nowak said. 

That sounds a lot like the gig economy, but it seems that for Starmer it's more important to appear as deferential as possible to corporate interests than to tackle systemic economic injustices which have mushroomed over 14 years of Conservative rule. If Labour are to do anything substantial to improve labour rights in government it will take strong labour movement pressure to make it happen. Wasn't it ever thus?

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

Gig Economy news round-up

  • LEAKED TEXT: GETIR CANCELLING WORKERS' SHIFTS IN GERMANY: A Getir franchise owner's message to workers, informing them that their shifts are being cancelled because there is not enough demand for Getir and Gorillas' grocery delivery services, has been leaked on social media. The text was posted by the Getir Workers Collective twitter account and states that "Getir and Gorillas are currently very surprisingly not in demand throughout Germany...We didn't even get half of our normal orders...It's currently an unknown situation for Getir." The Turkish delivery platform bought Gorillas in December of last year and many Gorillas' warehouses continue to operate under that brand. The message goes on to say that the franchise's budget has been reduced which means "that some will no longer get their hours". An anonymous employee of the Getir branch where the leaked text came from has told 'Taz' that there had been irregularities in the payment of wages since February and that they think Getir is trying to force workers to resign in order to avoid severance pay. A separate report in jungeWelt has found that Getir riders in Berlin have seen working conditions deteriorate rapidly since they started operating via a sub-contractor, with workers not being paid when sick. Getir recently announced it was shutting down operations in France, Spain, Italy and Portugal, but claimed it was committed to Germany, as well as the UK, the US, Netherlands and Turkey. Read more here.
  • LIEFERANDO COURIERS STRIKE IN GERMANY TO DEMAND A COLLECTIVE AGREEMENT: The fifth strike by Lieferando (Just Eat) couriers this year led by the NGG union took place on Thursday [17 August]. The workers, who protested outside Lieferando's headquarters in Berlin, have been demanding that the company negotiate a collective agreement since February. Just Eat employs its riders in Germany and have signed collective agreements in other European countries, including Austria and Spain. "It is the employer's last chance to avert indefinite strikes," NGG trade unionist Mark Baumeister, who claimed before the strike that over 100 riders across the country would be taking part, told 'Taz'. The NGG's demands include an hourly wage of €15 and a 13th monthly salary. The strike was also supported by the Berlin Lieferando Workers' Collective. A Lieferando spokesperson claimed that the workers already earn €14 an hour which is "more than service staff in the catering industry and comparable to that of delivery drivers in system catering", but Baumeister countered that wages only reach €14 an hour with "temporary surcharges", and that the basic salary is the minimum wage rate of €12. Read more here.
  • UBER EATS RUNS GROCERY DELIVERY AD CAMPAIGN IN THE UK: Uber Eats' has run an advertising campaign promoting its willingness to deliver anything consumers want, in a bid to push its new grocery offer. The poster adverts replace the word 'Eats' with others including  'Ice', 'Tonic', 'Lime' and 'Nuts'. "This campaign aims to help break the misconception that Uber Eats only delivers from restaurants," Alex Troughton of Uber Eats' "Groceries and New Verticals" division told 'The Drum'. The "Get Groceries, Effortlessly" ad campaign, which also includes social media and TV Ads, comes after the Californian company announced its move into the troubled grocery delivery sector in June, first launching in the US. Read more here
  • MALAGA SURGE PRICING INVESTIGATION REVEALS PRICES TRIPLE IN BUSIEST HOURS: An investigation by 'SUR' has found that the use of surge pricing by ridehail platforms Uber, Cabify and Bolt in the busiest hours can see prices increase by almost 300%. The peak times were during the Malaga Fair in August, one of the busiest times of the year for ridehail in the southern Spanish city. At its peak at 00:30am during the Fair on a Friday evening, Uber charged €31 for a 14 minute trip, up from €11 the day before the Fair had began at 7.45pm on a Thursday evening. The equivalent figures for Cabify were €29.70 versus €10.28, and for Bolt €24.95 versus €10.65. The use of surge pricing contrasts with the more tightly-regulated taxi sector, where fares do not change no matter the time of day and demand for the service. The Andalusian regional government, which Malaga is situated within, is planning to introduce maximum fares for the ridehail sector to block "abusive prices in situations of high demand". Read more here.
  • ÉLITE TAXI BARCELONA'S COURT APPEAL AGAINST FINE TO BE HEARD: The High Court of Justice of Catalonia has confirmed that the anti-Uberisation taxi union Èlite Taxi Barcelona's appeal against a massive fine by the Catalan competition authority (ACCO) will be heard. The €122,910 fine was handed down for a "collective recommendation to boycott Uber and other operators", but Élite Taxi believe that this "violates the fundamental rights and freedoms of taxi drivers" under EU law, including the right to freedom of expression and right to assembly. Élite Taxi has been a constant thorn in the side of Uber's attempts to establish itself in the Catalan capital since 2014, organising strikes and pressuring the Catalan Government to pass a law in July last year which effectively limits the ridehail sector in Catalonia to passenger vans and luxury vehicles. The union's leader, Alberto 'Tito' Álvarez, has said they will strike and blockade the city's ports from 1-4 September, in a move he has called "operation padlock", unless the ACCO's fine is revoked. Read more here
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From around the web
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Centering Alternative Forms of Labour Organisations

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Upcoming events

- The WE-TRANSFORM project is hosting a conference in Turin, Italy on 'a policy agenda for workers transition in automated and digital transport services', 27-28 September. Click here for full details and to register. 

- WageIndicator is hosting an online conference on 'A Level Playing Field for Gig Workers', 27 October. Click here for full details and to register.

Know of upcoming events we should be highlighting? Let us know at

Get Involved

The Gig Economy Project is a media network for gig workers and we welcome contributions from workers, writers, academics, activists - anyone who wants to stand up for workers' rights in the gig economy.

If you would like to write for the site, discuss arranging an interview with GEP, or simply have information about developments in the gig economy in Europe you think we should be aware of, get in touch. 

Contact project co-ordinator Ben Wray at or send a direct message to the Twitter: @project_gig.

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