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Before the pandemic, an estimated 23,000 Capital residents were active in the gig economy at least once a month – as Uber drivers, delivery workers or in other zero-hour contract roles – and that is likely to have risen significantly since, with data for England and Wales showing a 25 per cent increase between 2019 and 2021.
The task force was set up last year after the UK Supreme Court’s decision that Uber drivers should be classed as workers with employment rights. It included workers with first-hand experience of the gig economy in Edinburgh, as well as workers’ representatives, academics and experts from the council and Scottish Government.
Its report said although the gig economy offered flexibility it was also associated with low pay, poor income security, the risk of in-work poverty, poor opportunities for progression and poor worker safety.
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It said people were often not earning enough to get by on, had no say over working conditions, could not organise collectively with co-workers, had little clarity on how shifts were allocated and had no access to training, information or equipment to do their jobs safely.
And the report recommended the council look at establishing a dedicated workers’ hub to provide advice and support, and draw up a workers’ charter for what constitutes fair work in Edinburgh, including fair minimum standards on rates and working conditions in the gig economy.
It also proposed further work with workers, businesses and government on licensing and regulation in the gig economy, ensuring public sector procurement contracts only go to companies with fair work policies, and workers’ rights to access to data held on them.
City housing and fair work convener Kate Campbell, who chaired the task force, said it was clear there was a strong power imbalance in the gig economy.
“For many gig economy workers their shifts, performance monitoring and pay are controlled by an algorithm. This can be incredibly disempowering. We need to look at who has access to data, and how that data is used, and understand what reforms could empower workers.
“We also came to the conclusion that we need to look at strengthening workers’ rights, raising awareness of those rights and understanding how the categorisation of workers impacts on their working conditions. For example gig economy workers are classed as ‘self employed’ – but the reality of their day to day working lives is very far from what most of us would consider self employment.
“I hope we’ll come together at committee and agree the recommendations, so that we can get on with these actions, starting the journey to dramatically improving the working conditions for the growing number of gig economy workers in our city.”
Cailean Gallagher, co-ordinator of the Workers’ Observatory, a network of gig workers in Edinburgh, said: “Edinburgh’s gig workers see the city like no other workers, but their collective experience often goes unseen. The recommendations in this report, especially the facility for workers to meet and to share and access information, have real potential to help gig workers gain the information and control they need secure fairer conditions in the city.”