MINICAB firm Addison Lee is the latest in a long line of gig economy employers to be up in court arguing for their right to exploit workers in ways that would not have been out of place in the 19th century.
This time Addison Lee is appearing at the Employment Appeals Tribunal in London where it is appealing against a damning judgement against the company by the central London employment tribunal over the employment status of its drivers.
In September last year, the court ruled that a group of Addison Lee drivers were workers employed by the company and were therefore entitled to receive the National Minimum Wage and holiday pay.
It ruled that they were workers with rights to pay and not to have their contracts terminated because of union membership.
This scathing dismissal by the court followed a similar victory for gig economy workers represented by the GMB union against Uber last October. Earlier this month, the GMB announced that it was taking legal action on behalf of its members working for three delivery firms used by Amazon.
The GMB won a landmark judgement against Uber back in 2016 but the string of judgements, including ongoing legal action against a string of other gig companies including Deliveroo and City Link, while resulting in individual victories, has not halted the drive to turn millions of workers into ‘self-employed’ with no employment rights and a working life of near servitude towards these multi-million companies. Far from accepting the judgements handed down against them by courts, these companies are fighting tooth and nail to keep the bogus self-employed status for their workers.
Uber, which lost the case in 2016 which stated its drivers were employees and entitled to employment rights, also lost its own appeal against the decision last year but it now looks certain it will take the case to the Supreme Court. Likewise, Addison Lee, whose appeal this week was described by the GMB as a waste of time with the company on a ‘hiding to nothing’, will undoubtedly string proceedings out for as long as possible and not as the GMB says ‘hold their hands up and admit they were wrong’.
These gig companies are not going to admit they are wrong for the simple reason that they are intent on turning every worker into an individual contractor with no employment rights who can be hired and fired at will and who will be sacked for joining a union.
Driving the exploitation of workers to the extreme is the way they make their vast profits.
The gig economy is not just confined to delivery drivers. Currently there are five million people, around 15.6% of the full and part-time workforce, working in the gig economy and the Tories and bosses want this as the future for every worker.
None of these judgements so far has been enforced. The ban by Transport for London last year on Uber operating in the capital was done purely on health and safety grounds relating to background checks on drivers. This provoked an outcry of fury from Tory MPs and the right-wing free market Adam Smith Institute accusing TfL of being anti-capitalist and anti-business.
At last year’s Tory Party conference, health secretary Jeremy Hunt announced his intention to create an Uber-style workforce in the NHS with staff on flexible working hours dictated by phone apps in the same way Uber and the rest operate. This is the future as far as capitalism is concerned and the employers will not be deterred by legal cases that can be ignored or prolonged until such time as the law is changed in favour of the gig economy.
The fact remains that a bankrupt capitalist system can no longer afford decent pay or employment rights for the working class. For the working class the only way forward is to put an end to capitalism for good.
The unions must not rely on the courts to defend the rights of workers, they must take independent action by demanding that the TUC call a general strike to kick out the Tories and go forward to a workers government that will expropriate these bosses and bankers and bring in a socialist planned economy.