Precarious and Gig Economy Workers are Entitled to PPE, Rules High Court

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Precarious and Gig Economy Workers are Entitled to PPE, Rules High Court

The High Court has ruled that the government has not done enough to protect gig economy workers during the Covid-19 pandemic[1]. The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) brought the claim to the court, arguing that the government had failed to grant such workers the rights that they are entitled to under EU Health and Safety law.

The term “gig economy” worker refers to individuals who work based on the number of ‘gigs’ that they do, rather than a regular wage – included in this category are Deliveroo and Uber drivers. Effectively, it means that the worker can choose which jobs they want to accept, and which they want to decline. In turn, they will only receive payment for the ‘gigs’ that they actually perform.

In the UK law, there are two employment statuses: ‘employee[2]’ or ‘worker[3]’. While workers and employees are both entitled to a minimum wage and holiday pay, only employees are entitled to wider protections such as unfair dismissal protection, minimum statutory notice periods and maternity and parental leave and pay. The legal status of gig economy workers is one of the most troubling questions facing employment lawyers at present, with many cases on the status of such workers bringing about different verdicts. For example, Uber drivers were held to be workers[4], whereas Deliveroo drivers were not[5]. Generally, however, those who work in the gig economy are classed as workers.

The current case did not concern the status of the workers, but rather whether those who were classed as workers should have been afforded the rights that they are entitled to under EU law by UK legislation. For EU law to become enforceable in the UK, the UK government must first pass it as a domestic law. When the domestic legislation was written, the protections created by the original EU Law had only been afforded to those classed as employees under UK law, and not to those considered workers. The question for the court was thus whether the government had failed to properly protect workers by not including workers when they wrote the EU Law into domestic legislation.

Mr Justice Chamberlain found that the rights to protection should have been extended to workers. The rights included in this include the right to be provided with personal protective equipment (PPE) by the business they are working for and the right to stop work if they feel that they are in serious and imminent danger.

The decision is a much welcomed one, with the IWGB representing 5,000 members, and an estimated 1 in 10 adults currently working in the gig economy, which accounts for about 4.7 million people[6]. The gap in legislation had existed since the law came into force, but IWGB pointed out that he COvid-19 pandemic gave it particular significance. All the occupations represented by IWGB, including taxi drivers, bus and coach drivers and private hire drivers suffered from above average rates of death from Covid-19 and as such have a particular need for the kinds of health and safety

[1] R (on the application of Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain) v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions and another [2020] EWHC 3050 (Admin).

[2] Ss230(1) and (2) Employment Rights Act 1996.

[3] S230(3)(b) Employment Rights Act 1996.

[4] Uber BV and others (Appellants) v Aslam and others (Respondents) UKSC 2019/0029.

[5] R (on the application of the IWGB) v Central Arbitration Committee

[6] J Miller, ‘PPE Victory for Gig Economy’ (2020) 170 NLJ 7911, 5.

measures required by EU Law. Many of these workers had raised concerns that hey had not been provided with adequate PPE during the pandemic.

For the future, this means that those working gig economy jobs and those in more precarious employment who are classed as workers will be able to have access to the protections and measures so desperately needed as they work through the Covid-19 pandemic. It also means that as the legislation has been converted into domestic law, it will continue to apply after the UK has completed its departure from the EU.

Alex Marshall, president of IWGB said, “This ruling is long overdue and the IWGB expects that in the light of this clear ruling, the UK government will now take urgent legislative measures to ensure workers’ safety”[1].

If you are not satisfied with the Health and Safety measures implemented at your place of work, or are having any other issues with your employer, Stella Maris Solicitors LLP can help. We offer a friendly and approachable atmosphere, as well as over a decade of legal expertise, so that our clients know that they can trust us. to contact us, telephone 01793 296118, or email


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