Freelance fightback

MUCH IS happening in the field of rights for freelances, sometimes known as "precarious workers". This includes developments around couriers and delivery drivers who have been coerced into accepting "self-employed" status on piecemeal rates, lacking the benefits employee status brings, when they are employees in all but name.

NUJ President and LFB member Tim Dawson notes in one of his "President's Platform" columns the recent victory by "self-employed" bike, motorbike and moped couriers at Deliveroo London. The self-employed Deliveroo riders - organised as the couriers' branch of the Independent Workers union of Great Britain (IWGB), fought off attempts by management to impose pay cuts and new zero-hours contracts. They successfully crowdfunded a strike fund to see them through the dispute. When management called in individual couriers to offer them each better terms, they stood their ground and held out for collective bargaining.

A Deliveroo driver

A Deliveroo worker shows the contract two fingers

As we go to press, the threat of imposed new Deliveroo contracts is off the table, in London at least, with industrial action suspended during a "trial" of new agreed arrangements. The dispute caused Her Majesty's Government to "clarify" that self-employed workers can only be self-employed if HMRC says they can.

Delivery drivers at UberEats, also organised by the IWGB, held a one-day strike in August over changes to contract, piece-meal rates and "employment status." And Business Secretary Margot James has now asked HMRC to investigate "arrangements" by Hermes, who engage "self-employed" couriers paid by the parcel for John Lewis deliveries. The Guardian reported that some Hermes couriers ended up earning less than minimum wage. Also, a crowdfunded Industrial Tribunal case brought by IWGB by bike couriers over their "false designation as self-employed" will be heard in November.

As also noted by Tim, the NUJ "has battled on behalf of precarious workers for over a century... The NUJ has been insisting on fair pay for freelances from the outset... that fight continues to this day... The NUJ's approach recognises that the vast majority of the self-employed are neither entrepreneurs nor business, but workers. They need union protection as much, if not more, than those with permanent contracts."

In September the NUJ and Equity took a motion to the Trades Union Congress calling on the labour movement to commit itself to creating a better statutory backdrop for freelances. It was passed. The NUJ is also asking the International Labour Organization to adopt a convention covering the rights of freelances.

A possible special LFB event on genuinely freelance workers (freelance by choice), precarious workers and "false freelances" coerced into self-employed contracts is planned for March 2017, possibly to include workers in the IWGB union couriers' branch. Guy Standing, an economist specialising in precarity, has been invited. Watch this space.

Last modified: 25 Sep 2016 - © 2016 contributors
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