IWGB and Uber drivers suing UK government over its failure to protect millions of precarious workers

Thu, May 7, 2020, 11:01 PM

IWGB and Uber drivers suing UK government over its failure to protect millions of precarious workers

  • Government income support schemes discriminate against limb (b) workers, including those in the “gig economy”, by providing them with less protection than employees
  • Statutory sick pay (SSP) arrangements discriminate against BAME workers, women and workers in the so-called “gig economy”
  • The arrangements risk driving millions of workers into deeper poverty and pose a major threat to public health

8 May: The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) and two Uber drivers have filed a legal challenge against the UK government with the High Court over its failure to provide satisfactory income and sickness protection to millions of low-paid and self-employed workers (1) during the Covid-19 pandemic. The claimants will argue that this failure constitutes discrimination against self-employed limb (b) workers (2), BAME workers and women.

The income protection provided by the government’s proposed Self-Employed Income Support Scheme (SEISS) is significantly worse than that provided to employees through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, constituting discrimination against self-employed limb (b) workers, many of whom work in the “gig economy”(3). In particular:

  • There is an unacceptable delay as the scheme will only be introduced in June
  • It excludes workers that became self-employed after 6 April 2019
  • It excludes those who derive less than 50% of their income from self-employment
  • It doesn’t cover on-going overheads most self-employed workers have

The claimants will further argue that the current £95.85 per week Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) arrangement discriminates against women, BAME workers and workers in the so-called “gig economy” for whom these payments are not enough to survive on or in some cases not even available at all. (4)

The current arrangements are also a major threat to public health, since many workers are forced to continue working while sick or while they should be self-isolating in order to survive.

IWGB member and claimant on the case Ahmad Adiatu says: “I started working as an Uber driver a few years ago thinking it would be enough to provide for me and my family, but now with the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic it has become impossible. As an Uber driver, costs such as car maintenance, insurance and congestion charge can reach over £1,000 a month. Now I have no money, so can't even renew my private hire license. With virtually no income coming in, we've been struggling to get by and we are behind on our rent. My wife, who is now breastfeeding, has even had to sell her phone in order to buy food for herself and the children. I've always worked hard and provided for my family. I just want to be able to continue doing that.”

IWGB member and Uber driver Sarja Richards, who is providing a witness statement to the High Court says:I worked 60 hours this week for £40 and I’m three weeks in arrears on my rent. I have three children counting on me. How am I supposed to explain to them that we can’t pay our bills? The government’s promised assistance is not enough, doesn’t cover the huge expenses we have as Uber drivers and will come too late. How are we expected to survive until June? We need real action and we need it now.”

IWGB General Secretary Dr. Jason Moyer-Lee says: "Statutory sick pay has never been more important, for both low paid workers as well as for society more generally, than it is now.  So it must be extended to cover more people and set at a rate which actually allows workers to go off sick and follow public health advice.  Similarly, it is crucial that the shortcomings of the Self-Employed Income Support Scheme are fixed so as to avoid further unnecessary destitution.  It is unfortunate we have had to litigate to make these points, but this government has left us and our members with no choice."

Rosa Curling, solicitor from law firm Leigh Day said: “It is vital, now more than ever, that the incomes of gig economy workers are protected, ensuring these hard-working people are not left destitute during this time of crisis. Current measures put in place by the government do not go far enough. While employees are guaranteed 80% of their salary up to a cap of £2500 per month, gig economy workers do not have the same assurances. This lack of protection disproportionately affects those in BAME communities and women. Urgent action must be taken to address this omission.”

Solicitors from Leigh Day and barristers from Old Square Chambers are acting for the union and its members.

The IWGB is the UK’s leading union for precarious workers and workers in the so-called ‘gig-economy’. It has previously taken strategic legal action against the UK government, Uber, Addison Lee, Deliveroo, eCourier, City Sprint, The Doctors Laboratory and The University of London.


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Notes for Editors:

  1. According to the TUC at least 1/10 adults engage in gig economy work, which now accounts for at least 4.7 million workers in the UK.  As of September 2019, there were already 291,800 private hire vehicles (PHVs) registered in England alone, up 2.5% from the previous year (Taxi and Private Hire Vehicle Statistics, England: 2019). Major gig-economy employer Hermes claims to operate a network of over 15,000 couriers.  According to the TUC 1.87m people do not qualify for sick pay because they earn less than the lower earnings limit of £120 per week.
  2. Limb (b) workers are a category of self-employed who are entitled to basic rights such as sick pay and holiday pay. Tribunal and court rulings in the UK against “gig economy” companies such as Uber, City Sprint, Addison Lee, The Doctors Laboratory and Hermes have found that their workers fall under this category.
  3. This is discriminatory against self-employed limb (b) workers under Article 14 (taken with Article 1, Protocol 1 and/or with Article 8) of the ECHR.
  4. Law around SSP is a case of indirect discirmination under the directly effective EU law, because women and BAME employees are less likely to earn above the £120 weekly earnings threshold needed to qualify for SSP and because they are more likely to be on a low wage and have less of a financial cushion, and therefore are less likely to survive on such a low payment. It is also discriminatory under Article 14 (taken with Articles 8 and/or Article 1, Protocol 1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) since it (or similar provisions) are denied to self-employed “gig economy”workers who are classed as limb (b) workers.
  5. The IWGB has launched a crowdfunder to cover potential legal costs. It has so far raised over £23,000.

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