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Gig economy workers facing ‘triple hit’ of pandemic hardship

Citizens Advice warned many insecure workers were struggling to understand their rights or defend them due to a complex system
Workers in the gig economy are more likely to have had their employment rights violated. Image credit: Garry Knight / Flickr

Workers on zero-hours contracts are more likely to have had their employment rights violated and incomes slashed during the pandemic, according to new research by Citizens Advice, with many now facing unemployment due to the impact of Covid-19 on the economy. 

The charity warned of a “crisis” in workers’ rights as people on insecure contracts and in the self-employed “gig economy” were facing higher levels of pandemic hardship compared to the rest of the working population. 

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Acting chief executive Alistair Cromwell said despite working through lockdown, insecure workers were fighting on multiple fronts. 

Cromwell said: “Zero-hours and agency workers, including delivery drivers and carers, have often been at the frontline of this pandemic. 

“Yet they’ve faced a triple hit of hardship: more likely to face losing their jobs, have their employment rights violated and experience stark drops in income.”

Insecure work is currently at record levels, with the number of people on zero-hours contracts with no guarantee of employment or earnings at an all-time high of one million. 

In September, homelessness charity St Mungo’s warned the rise of “transient work” – such as temporary and zero-hour contracts, agency work and self-employment – was pushing some workers to the brink of homelessness.

There are three million self-employed workers in total and many have found themselves shut out from support during the pandemic and excluded from the Government’s furlough scheme.  

The new research from Citizens Advice found 52 per cent of insecure workers classed themselves as key workers but were four times more likely to lose their job. According to the Office for National Statistics, the UK unemployment rate has already hit 4.9 per cent with 1.69 million people currently out of work. 

The charity’s advisers said they had seen “worrying” examples of potential employment rights violations. 

One adviser, Alex McColl, said: “I spent a whole day advising care workers on zero-hours contracts. One had lost their job because they’d refused to go into the home of someone with Covid symptoms. 

“Another raised concerns over health and safety at their workplace and was subsequently given duties cleaning a Covid ward. They felt it was punishment for speaking up.”

Citizens Advice warned many insecure workers were struggling to understand their rights or defend them due to a complex and patchwork system for employment enforcement. 

The charity said it had helped more than 170,000 people with one-to-one advice on employment issues since lockdown, with an 89 per cent increase in the number seeking help because of problems with the terms and conditions of their temporary, agency or zero-hours contracts. 

Cromwell added: “It’s not right that the rights insecure workers have aren’t always being upheld. 

“The Government must fast-track its plans to create a one-stop-shop for employment rights to ensure that all workers, including people in the most precarious positions, are protected.”