Rafael Behr’s commentary on Matthew Taylor’s “gig economy” report is too kind by half (The gig economy can be exploitative – but there is no easy path to Good Work, 12 July). Both in the report and in interviews, Taylor seems more concerned to preserve the gig economy business model than worried about the resultant exploitation. The business owners’ excuse, that they couldn’t run their business otherwise, is exactly the same old excuse used right back to the slave owners.
If the only way the business model can work is by denying workers’ rights, rights hard-won by generations of struggle, then that flawed model has no place in any kind of decent, fair society. The Orwellian rebranding of the workers’ title “dependent contractors”, or some such nonsense, should tell you all you need to know about how flawed Taylor’s proposals are. It really is that simple.
• Rafael Behr agonises over the trade-off facing the gig economy, between having a flexible labour market and guaranteeing a minimum hourly income for people who work flexibly.
The Taylor review posits that people in the gig economy who choose to work at off-peak times should not necessarily be entitled to the minimum wage. But when I raised this in the House of Commons, the minister could not have been clearer in her assurance: “Minimum wages rates are sacrosanct. There will be no trade-off when it comes to ensuring that everybody is paid at least the minimum wage.”
This is a clear undertaking from the government. The House’s job now is to ensure that undertaking is honoured in any subsequent legislation. If gig companies are required by law always to abide by the minimum wage, even if that means a loss in flexibility, they will need to regulate the supply of labour or pay from their profits the minimum wage when there is not the level of demand to pay all workers at that rate.
Frank Field MP
• Theresa May doesn’t need to introduce new laws to protect workers in the gig economy: British employment law is fair and robust already. But what she could do is ensure that the basics of the law and economics are explained to everyone before they start working, preferably at school, so they can assess the viability of an “offer” themselves.
Most of these workers are actually not self-employed, so are entitled to holiday pay, statutory sick pay and the other benefits of payrolled employment, while the rates their employers offer are not economically viable as a sole income.
A properly self-employed worker has to charge many times more per hour than their waged colleagues in order to achieve parity of income. Until this is explained to school leavers, this type of exploitation will continue.
• Can you be self-employed if you only have one employer? The taxman once had a rule that you couldn’t. Who changed that?
• The Guardian has been conducting investigations into the gig economy over the past few months. The publication last Tuesday of the Taylor report into the same topic therefore ought to have justified more than the usual level of coverage. Instead, what did we get? Theresa May, Rebecca Long-Bailey and the GMB offer their reactions to the report, Robert Booth gives us a critical summary of the report, we get another two tales from the gig economy, and there is an editorial along with a comment piece by Rafael Behr.
What we do not get is a proper report of the report itself, its main recommendations, its findings and some key excerpts from it. When the facts of the matter are supplanted by a flurry of opinions from all and sundry, you do your readers a disservice. I’d like to know what Taylor says, after which opinions can be aired.
• Wortley Hall, the self-styled “workers’ stately home” on the outskirts of Sheffield, is a wonderful monument to the co-operative movement and the trade unions and has been lovingly restored to its former glory. Is there any need for it to hire staff on zero-hours contracts?
• In defence of freelancing stewards at Lord’s (Letters, 12 July), while I appreciate the reasons that led Rick Hall to resign his Tate membership in sympathy with the staff on zero-hours contracts, the case at Lords is rather different. The Tate has a permanent exhibition and therefore a relatively constant need for a certain number of staff, but the number of stewards required at a Test cricket ground varies vastly. While crowds of over 20,000 can be expected to enter Lord’s on up to 15 days of the year, there will seldom be a 20th of that number for the other 350 days. For at least five months of the year there will be no spectators at all. To expect the MCC to employ full-time staff on that basis is maybe a little exaggerated.
Juan Carlos Escandell
• I am a chef and a father of four children. Today in the world of UK hospitality, working hours laid down in our contracts are 48 per week, but we are bound by signing an extra clause to our contract that commits us to work more as required by the establishment – which usually means a working week of between 55 and 60 hours.
This evidently leaves little or no room for any quality life. Of course, you feel obliged to sign this clause as this is part and parcel of the job offer but you soon realise that it is a trap. You live a life of modern-day slavery in which you don’t see your family, you have poor quality sleep and you never get enough rest. In short, you are exploited to the maximum. Needless to say, turnover is extremely high in the hospitality business among chefs.
In our job we know when we start our shift, but not when it ends. Why do we have to be different from any other profession that has reasonable eight-hour shifts?
The hospitality industry currently receives recognition in the form of star rankings from various reviewing bodies – depending on the quality of menus, their creativity and presentation, prices, the excellence of service and so on.
But who is taking responsibility to ensure that cooks and chefs have a balance between work and family and living any sort of quality life? Surely, we are more important than the star rankings? Many people in this industry are suffering and they have no other choice as no law is protecting them.
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Source : https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/jul/16/workers-rights-need-more-protection-in-the-gig-economy