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From the Gig Economy to Umbrella Companies: Is Good Work under Threat and What Can Labour Do about It?

The Labour Party Annual Conference 2021

SME4Labour and IPSE Fringe: From the Gig Economy to Umbrella Companies: Is Good Work under Threat and What Can Labour Do about It?

Four years ago, the independent Taylor Review made a groundbreaking assessment of modern working practices. It warned of the threats ranged against ‘good work’ in the UK and set out a strategy to ensure ‘fair and decent’ working practices across the country. But in 2021, more people than ever are working through unregulated umbrella companies, a string of high-profile court cases still haven’t cleared the confusion in the gig economy and the pandemic has put an enormous strain on people’s working lives. So, has anything changed and what still needs to be done?

o Chair: Tristan Grove, IPSE

o Speaker: Angela Eagle MP

o Speaker: Kate Dearden, Head of Research, Policy & External Relations Community Union

o Speaker: Emma O’Dwyer, Head of Labour Relations and Regulatory Policy at Uber

Event Summary:

We were joined by a packed panel of experts for our joint event with IPSE: “From the Gig Economy to Umbrella Companies: Is Good Work under Threat and What Can Labour Do about It?” Our panel speakers included: chairing the event – Tristan Grove of Ipse, Angela Eagle MP, Kate Dearden of Community Union and Emma O’Dwyer of Uber. Our discussion included a wide-ranging discussion on the gig economy, what employment is in 2021, if the statute book on employment is fit-for-purpose when considering modern working practices, if employers are doing enough in terms of offering protections, pay, terms and conditions, and what more Labour can do on the gig economy.

Opening the discussion, we heard from chair Tristan Grove of IPSE who introduced the context of our event, outlining the findings of the independent Taylor Review, which four years ago made a ground-breaking assessment of modern working practices. It warned of the threats ranged against ‘good work’ in the UK and set out a strategy to ensure ‘fair and decent’ working practices across the country. Grove outlined that four years on from Taylor’s review, more people than ever are working through unregulated umbrella companies, a string of high-profile court cases still haven’t cleared the confusion in the gig economy and the pandemic has put an enormous strain on people’s working lives.

Next up we heard from Angela Eagle MP who outlined the importance of Labour taking a leading role on standing up for workers in the gig economy, considering Labour’s founding as a party for workers. Eagle outlined her experience as former Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, exploring the ways in which the former Labour Government sought to grapple with ways of working including the need to update legislation which remains the case today. Eagle insisted that Labour has an obligation to workers and that Labour should take a leading role in ensuring workers have adequate protections at work.

Following on from Angela Eagle MP we heard from Emma O’Dwyer of Uber who offered the perspective of Uber who are currently working to offer improved terms of conditions to its workers in the context of a changing work and regulatory environment. O’Dwyer outlined what steps Uber was taking to improve its protections for workers as well as exploring the ways in which a more settled regulatory environment may assist firms in the sector when considering their approach to the gig economy.

From Community Union we heard from Kate Dearden who offered the union perspective on the gig economy. Dearden highlighted the ways in which firms and the Government were failing to offer adequate terms, conditions and pay to workers, especially those in the gig economy. We heard about the ongoing struggle for adequate sick pay, as well as the lack of protections workers in the gig economy are currently dealing with. Dearden called on employers and the Government to do more to ensure workers are properly protected and compensated at work.

Our discussion represented a significant exploration of the gig economy and the shape of modern employment in 21st century Britain. Our discussion ranged from the need for an updated statute book on employment, the role employers have in offering protections to workers, and the need for a wholescale improvement in the ways in which gig economy workers are treated in our economy and society. Our discussion represented a significant opportunity for leaders from business, politics and trade unions to discuss one of the major employment issues of the day and offered real insight into what more Labour can do to protect workers in the gig economy.

From the Gig Economy to Umbrella Companies: Is Good Work under Threat and What Can Labour Do about It?

Kate Dearden is Head of Research, Policy and External Relations at Community trade union, and leads on Community’s political work. Kate also represents the union on Labour’s National Policy Forum and is a member of Labour Women’s Network Management Committee campaigning for women’s rights and representation within the Labour Party.

Prior to her current role, Kate worked for the Labour Party in several capacities including as National Chair of Labour Students and as a Campaigns Officer during the 2017 General Election.

Angela Eagle DBE is a Labour Party politician serving as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Wallasey since 1992.

Tristan Grove – Head of Communications and Policy Engagement at IPSE.

Emma O’Dwyer, Head of Labour Relations and Regulatory Policy at Uber