The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) is taking legal action against the Government in an attempt to secure health and safety protections for hundreds of thousands of workers in the gig economy.

The union has sent a pre-action protocol letter and will argue, as part of its judicial review, that the Government has failed in its obligation to transpose EU health and safety directives into UK law.

Whereas UK health and safety law only protects employees, EU legislation extends these protections, which include the right to adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), to all those classified as workers.

IWGB General Secretary Jason Moyer-Lee said: “As the Government looks to ease the lockdown in the midst of the pandemic, health and safety at work has never been more important. The UK is already compelled by EU law to extend health and safety protections to workers; it's a shame the Government would rather litigate than comply.”

He explained that losing the review would force the Government to extend health and safety protections to all “workers”, including hundreds of thousands in the so-called gig economy, such as Uber and Addison Lee drivers, Pimlico plumber workers, and medical and parcel couriers.

The union is also taking legal action against the Government over the way its COVID-19 income support schemes discriminate against limb (b) workers by providing them with less protection than employees, disproportionately affecting BAME and women workers in the gig economy.

Limb (b)?

The term “limb (b)” comes from s.230(3) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 where a worker is defined as an individual who works under either:

  1. a contract of employment, or

  2. any other contract, whether expressed or implied and (if it is expressed) whether oral or in writing, whereby the individual undertakes to do or perform personally any work or services for another party to the contract whose status is not by virtue of the contract that of a client or customer of any profession or business undertaking carried on by the individual.

Comment by Andy Willis, Head of Legal at Croner

Rights for gig economy workers remain a contentious issue, and it seems that the coronavirus is only fanning the flames of this argument.

This latest development sends a clear message to employers of the dangers of treating individuals in the gig economy poorly and how the outbreak has not relaxed union stance on this issue.

It remains to be seen what the outcome of this will be, but, until then, employers must take care when managing gig economy workers. It also shows that the coronavirus continues to place scrutiny on numerous areas of employment and, to this end, it is essential that employers remain up to date with all ongoing developments.

Last reviewed 19 May 2020