Friday, 28 October 2016

Uber good news

After my last rather gloomy post, today there is some good news. I’ve posted elsewhere about the rise of uberfication and the gig economy, and also about how this links to supposed ‘self-employment’, which is really employment shorn of any protections. (I do not write about this in the current edition of the book, but it will be covered in the fourth edition, which comes out next month).

Today, the company after which the phenomenon was named, taxi app firm Uber, was subject to a significant ruling by a UK employment tribunal. Specifically, Uber was told that it cannot treat its drivers as self-employed, and must pay them the national living wage and holiday pay, and possibly even pensions. The ruling (which is likely to be appealed against by Uber) will, if it stands, have significant implications for other companies operating the same or similar business models. As the lawyer representing the drivers who brought the case (with the support of the GMB union) said:

“This is a ground-breaking decision. It will impact not just on the thousands of Uber drivers working in this country, but on all workers in the so-called gig economy whose employers wrongly classify them as self-employed and deny them the rights to which they are entitled.”

This ruling comes at a significant time, politically. In both the EU Referendum (and for those interested in Brexit, do take a look at my Brexit blog tracing developments) and, even more, the US presidential race, the issue of how changing work practices erode security has been an issue. More widely, this connects with the political consequences of globalization and the hollowing out of middle class employment.

Of course, even on minimum wage and protection terms, employment remains a far cry from the post-war social democratic model of secure employment with a social welfare net. Even so, the ruling suggests that the direction of travel need not inevitably be downwards, and that globalization and technology are not forces of nature but may be corralled by politics and legislation. As I argue throughout my book, what happens in organizations is not pre-ordained but is an outcome of the choices we, collectively, make about how to live.

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