Income inequality has increased significantly during the pandemic, as the UK’s unemployment reached 5%, which is 1.2% higher than the previous year. Many are struggling to provide for themselves and their families, and have turned to often insecure lower-paid work in the gig economy, despite the lack of job security.
This comes as Royal Society for Arts, Manufacture and Commerce research shows 1 in 10 insecure workers went back to work within 10 days of a positive Covid test, breaking isolation rules in order to support themselves.
While the majority struggle to find work and earn money, the rich are thriving, with Oxfam’s report showcasing how the world’s richest have managed to recoup their losses in just nine months.
Low-Paid Workers Face Discrimination
Low-paid workers in the UK are twice as likely to lose their job compared to higher-paid employees. Those who earn less than £9.50 an hour are more likely to slip through the cracks with many not benefiting from the government’s furlough scheme. Self-isolation is also often not an option for workers who rely on this income.
There are also workers in the gig economy who are desperate to earn, which employers use to exploit them. Deliveroo is a prime example of this, as many gig riders have complained about the lack of money, despite ‘busy’ alerts on the app, which make them believe that there is plenty of work.
Twitter user, George Aylett posted a TikTok video of his experience working for Deliveroo, where he earned just £4.37 in two and a half hours riding around Leeds on a Friday and Saturday evening. He discussed how there are people who ‘rely on this work as their sole income and the fact someone can be working for hours on (a) night @Deliveroo deems ‘busy’ and get nothing is awful.’
Deliveroo riders in Dublin also took part in a strike on the 22nd of January where they voiced their need for better working conditions as well as increased security, delivery fees, and value standards. Deliveroo responded by stating that the pay riders receive ‘is now higher than before the pandemic’ and also discussed plans to introduce distance-based fees.
The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) Couriers, the primary union for food delivery drivers and couriers, has supported the strikes and criticised its union members’ employers for the lack of worker’s rights and further outsourcing their work to other agencies to undermine the value of their labour.
IWGBC recently published a letter addressed to Just Eat and Stuart Delivery, stating “We are aware that Just Eat is currently utilising an agency to perform deliveries on its behalf in London. Should this be the case outside of London, then the existing Stuart Delivery riders must be given first refusal before hiring new riders.”
Unsafe Work Environments
Recent reports show that 350,000 people in casual employment went back to work within ten days of a positive COVID test due to the lack of benefits, including statutory sick pay. Among these workers is a large percentage of migrant workers in the gig economy and agency workers and employees on zero-hour contracts.
The main branch of the IWGB has also spoken out about the discrimination of precarious workers during the pandemic. They also highlighted the case of one of their members, who was interviewed on BBC Radio 4 after being forced to go back to work due to receiving little income while working as a cleaner in a non-essential building.
During the interview, the woman, who is a migrant, with the alias ‘Maria’ mentioned how she only received £95 in sick pay. She also discussed how “the government is neither protecting nor supporting low paid casual workers”, saying “We should have better conditions, adequate sick pay, extra money…because we are risking our health and the health of our families.”
The IWGB campaign for rights and health and safety protections for gig workers, accounting for around 4.7 million people in the UK. They brought up the issues to the government in the form of a Judicial Review, which was brought to the High Court where a judge ruled in favour of the IWGB on the 30th of November 2020. Despite the ruling recognising its failure to grant lawful rights to independent workers, the government has not appealed the decision.
While the government made no objections regarding employment rights for precarious workers, the long-overdue employment bill is yet to be discussed in parliament. Many are hoping that the government will stick to its 2019 Conservative manifesto, where they pledged to ‘build on existing employment law with measures that protect those in low-paid work and the gig economy.’