23 March: The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) is taking legal action against the government over its failure to protect the wages and jobs of millions of workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as its failure to ensure the health and safety of those still employed through proper sick pay.
In a letter before action (1) being sent today, the union will argue that the current £94.25 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 or in some cases not even available at all. (2)
The union will further argue that the 80% wage subsidies offered by the government to businesses to keep people employed discriminates against “gig-economy” and other self-employed workers, who are not included in this scheme. (3)
The current arrangements are not only discriminatory and risk driving millions of workers into deeper poverty, but 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.
Linda Arteaga, a cleaner and member of the IWGB’s Cleaners and Facilities branch said: “I work as a cleaner and I am a widowed single mother. As important as it may be to self-isolate, having to live for half a month on £94.25 per week would make my life impossible. I would have to choose between buying food for my family and following the Government’s health advice to protect the public.”
Greg Howard, a Deliveroo rider and Secretary of the IWGB’s Couriers and Logistics branch said: “While other workers are being offered some assistance during the Covid-19 pandemic, as a ‘gig economy’ worker I am being refused even the most basic protections. While the government expects workers such as myself to provide essential services during this crisis, if I am sick or if the company I work for has to downsize, I’ll be driven into deeper hardship. The law has to change so that it protects all workers.”
IWGB General Secretary Dr. Jason Moyer-Lee said: "Many low paid and precarious workers are on the front lines of this crisis distributing food, delivering medical samples, cleaning buildings and looking after children in need, yet they have the least protection. Many who become sick or need to self-isolate will receive little or no sick pay. Others who are laid off will not receive wage subsidies from the Government because they are not employees. No one wants to be litigating right now, but we also cannot stand by while our members are exposed to unnecessary risk or driven into destitution."
Kiran Daurka, the solicitor leading the Leigh Day team on the case alongside Anna Dews, said “The failure to protect the income of gig economy workers could see people having to work despite medical evidence to stay at home, it is an urgent omission that has to be addressed now.Many gig economy workers are not treated as being employed by their employers and as such may not qualify for Statutory Sick Pay, or their pay may be so low that they do not reach the threshold for such pay. While some steps have been introduced by the government, these steps do not go far enough where employees are guaranteed 80% of their salary up to a cap of £2500 per month but gig economy workers do not have the same guarantees.”
Solicitors from Leigh Day (4) and barristers from Old Square Chambers (5) are acting for the union and its members and its members.
In order to protect itself from potential legal costs, the union has today launched a crowdfunder with an initial target of £8,000 and a stretch target of £20,000.
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.
Last week the union sent a letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson demanding that he agree to 12 demands to protect the health, safety, and financial security of low paid precarious workers.
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(1) A letter before action is the standard first step that is taken before the issuing of proceedings for a judicial review in the High Court.
(2) Law around SSP is a case of indirect discirmination under the Equality Act 2010, because women and BAME employees are less likely to earn above the £118 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 nd 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 either independent contractors or limb (b) workers.
(3) The 80% wage subsidies are discriminatory against “gig economy” and self-employed workers under Article 14 (taken with Article 1, Protocol 1) of the ECHR.
(4) Leigh Day Solicitors: Anna Dews, Kiran Daurka, Rosa Curling, Jamie Beagent and Benjamin Croft
(5) Old Square Chambers Barristers: Ben Collins QC, Eleena Misra, Nadia Motraghi, and Rachel Owusu–Agyei.