The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE) has endorsed views expressed in a new report that working conditions for struggling gig economy couriers should be improved. However, it has warned that, in seeking to do so, Parliament must not regulate the platform economy so heavily that it becomes redundant.
The report by Frank Field MP and his parliamentary researcher Andrew Forsey examined the working conditions of Deliveroo riders. IPSE supports the need to improve conditions for vulnerable self-employed workers but has restated its position that other freelancers such as highly-skilled, well-remunerated contracting professionals should not be harmed by efforts to protect the more easily exploited.
Field recommends compelling companies to prove their workforces are genuinely self-employed, but IPSE believes that this would immediately erect a huge bureaucratic barrier, deterring businesses from engaging workers and stopping freelancers and contractors from working flexibly.
Field and Forsey also advocate forcing Deliveroo to guarantee the National Minimum Wage (NMW) for the entire time that its workers are logged into the app and available for work. However, IPSE believes that this is neither a workable business model nor desirable, as it would further undermine the flexibility of the gig economy.
Instead, IPSE proposes the recommendation advanced in the Taylor Review, which would adapt piece rates legislation in such a way that gig economy workers were able to earn the NMW while retaining maximum flexibility.
The professional contracting body’s Deputy Director of Policy, Andy Chamberlain, said that Mr Field was “absolutely right” to point out in his report that existing employment classifications have not kept up with contemporary working practices. As a consequence, he acknowledged, a small number of freelance workers had found themselves earning less than the NMW yet had no other work opportunities, a predicament that was far from ideal.
However, he warned of the real risk of harming the vast majority of freelancing and contracting workers and other self-employed people if measures to help these more vulnerable gig workers were not sufficiently discerning.
Chamberlain continued: “Flexibility is the foundation not just of the platform economy but of all self-employment, and some of the measures Field has proposed would be a disaster for the flexibility of the sector.” He argues that excessive bureaucracy discourages many potential flexible workers from becoming self-employed. Chamberlain insists that the industry should be made more accessible, rather than more intimidating.
He cautioned against driving people engaging via online platforms that impose rigid shift patterns, which would destroy flexibility. Instead, he called for “more nuanced, workable solutions” capable of protecting both platform workers and self-employment.