Ministers’ failure to help workers – Uber drivers in court

The High Court has recently heard a case bought by two Uber drivers and the IWGB (Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain) over the failure during the coronavirus to protect low paid gig workers.

The gig economy is characterized by short term contracts which are subjected to last minute scheduling changes.

The case focused on gig economy workers who qualified for the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme (SEISS), instead of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS). The claimants argued that there is significantly better income protection with the CJRS.

Points of their case were that:

  • There had been an ‘unacceptable delay’ as the SEISS has only recently been introduced
  • SEISS excluded any worker who had become self-employed after 6th April 2019
  • Excluded are workers who derive less than half their income from self-employment
  • No allowance is made to cover ongoing overheads which most self-employed people have
  • SEISS covers fewer months than CJRS

The current statutory sick pay (SSP) regime, the claimants argued, discriminates against females, black, Asian, and ethnic minority workers in the gig economy.

The claimants further argued that the exclusion of ‘limb’ workers from the CJRS is discriminatory. This category of self-employed workers is entitled to basic employment rights like holiday pay.

Mr Ben Collins QC stated that the IWGB was challenging the government’s adherence to the Public Sector Equality Duty. He described the government’s policy to perform an Equality Impact Assessment as a ‘box-ticking’ exercise.

Mr Ahmed Adiatu, one of the claimants and a member of the IWGB, stated that he had been working as an Uber driver for several years. He had started as a driver thinking that it would be able to provide an income for him and his family.

With the advent of the coronavirus it had been an impossible task. Monthly costs such as car maintenance, insurance and congestion charges reached more than £1000 per month. With no money coming in, Mr Adiatu could not even renew his private hire licence.

The family was behind on their rent and struggling to make ends meet. Mr Adiatu’s wife had needed to sell her phone so that she could by food for herself and the children.

Mr Adiatu stated that he had always worked hard to provide for his family and he simply wanted to continue doing that.

Jason Moyer-Lee, IWGB general secretary explained that statutory sick pay had never been more important than now with Covid-19 which affects both low paid workers and society in general.

‘Statutory sick pay needs to be extended to cover more people.’ Mr Moyer-Lee suggested it be set at a rate which allows workers follow public health advice.

Mr Moyer-Lee concluded by saying that it is crucial that shortcomings of the SEISS are addressed so that further unnecessary destitution can be avoided. It was unfortunate that the IWGB was forced to litigate, but in this they had had no choice.

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) reported that about 10% of adults work in the gig economy. This represents about 4.7 million people in the UK.


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