For some it’s a new, more flexible way to work. For others it’s just another way for employers to dodge their legal responsibilities. Whatever you think of the so-called “gig economy”, it’s quickly found a place in the UK’s employment landscape. Here are a few of the latest updates on this fascinating, sometimes controversial way of working.

10% of UK workforce now in gig economy

A recent report put out by the TUC claims that 1 in every 10 adults is now putting in hours on gig economy jobs at least once every week. That’s around 4.7 million people, a number that’s doubled in the last 3 years. For most of these people, their “gig” work is a top-up to their main jobs – which is worrying to some as it tends to imply that a lot of us aren’t getting by comfortably even when we’re in work.

Largely stagnant wages in many industries are big part of that problem, so it’s easy to see the appeal of a flexible second job. Given that gig work tends to come with fewer rights and benefits compared to traditional employment, though, the rise in its popularity isn’t necessarily good news. With 90% of gig economy workers earning under £10,000 and unstable hours to contend with, there’s a definite case to be made that some people are being treated unfairly.

New protection against exploitative employers

A new body is being formed to protect workers from employers who refuse to play by the rules on holiday pay. Last December saw an extension of the holiday pay reference period to 52 weeks, up from 12. Now the new organisation is aiming to tackle cases where employers aren’t allowing people to use their holiday allowance, or are cheating the minimum wage laws.

Employers will also have to issue a “statement of rights” to the people they put to work, explaining everything they’re entitled to in leave allowances. With an estimated 1.2 million UK workers not being told how much they were losing in tax, National Insurance and pension contributions, it’s great news that employers are now being forced to let everyone know where they stand.

The consultation into the new body is also looking at whether it needs to wade in on difficult issues like workplace discrimination, bullying and harassment.

Sick pay for gig workers?

As the rules currently stand, you have to earn 14 hours’ worth of the minimum wage to qualify for statutory sick pay. However, there’s a movement in government that’s hoping to expand that eligibility to cover people making less. Right now, it’s just at the consultation stage. However, if it gathers enough momentum, we could well be seeing gig economy workers start to qualify for sick pay of £94.25 per week. Every year, 100,000 people leave their jobs after an extended period of illness, and the government is keen to bring that number down. Some of the ideas currently knocking around include:

  • Encouraging employers to get involved sooner when someone is signed off sick.
  • Phased returns to work, where employees could still claim sick pay.
  • Rebates for employers who help their employees back to work.

Details are still developing, obviously, but with gig economy workers typically losing out on paid holiday and statutory sick pay, any attempt to rebalance the system will be welcomed by many in the UK’s flexible workforce. All this comes hot on the heels of recent moves to protect gig economy workers from being penalised for not accepting work at the last minute. As Business Secretary Greg Clark puts it:

“Innovative entrepreneurs and new business models have opened up a whole new world of working patterns and opportunities, providing people with freedom to decide when and where they work... It’s vital that workers’ rights keep pace with these changes, reflect the modern working environment and tackle the small number of firms that do not treat their staff fairly.”