Labour’s Rebecca Long-Bailey took Uber and the ‘gig economy’ to task on BBC Radio 4‘s Today programme on Tuesday 11 July. And the Shadow Business Secretary didn’t mince her words during a debate about a new government review into working practices. But when the host tried to trap Long-Bailey, she completely out-manoeuvred him.
If it smells like Uber…
Long-Bailey was discussing the Taylor Review into UK working practices. The report details measures to stop the exploitation of workers in precarious low-paid or self-employment, such as people who work for firms like Uber and Deliveroo. Host Nick Robinson asked [1.10] Long-Bailey:
Do you refuse to ever take an Uber, because you just don’t think morally it’s quite right?
She was unequivocal in her response:
I don’t personally use Uber, because I don’t feel that it’s morally acceptable… I don’t want to see companies… model their operations on the Uber model… If it looks like a job or it smells like a job, then it is a job.
No flies on Long-Bailey
But Robinson then tried to catch Long-Bailey out on the subject of cash-in-hand working, which the Taylor Review says should end. The host asked whether Long-Bailey “would refuse, personally, to give someone cash-in-hand”. She said [from 4.45]:
No, I mean I think you need to have a look at the situation as it arises, really…
Robinson interrupted and said:
So you would give cash in hand?
Well, for example, if I take a taxi in Manchester…
Robinson again interrupted:
Ah, but that’s different. That’s not avoiding tax, is it?
But she was having none of his game-playing:
I would be paying the taxi driver cash-in-hand, I don’t know whether the taxi driver’s going to pay their tax or not…
The ‘gig economy’
The Taylor Review makes a series of wide-ranging recommendations about the ‘gig economy’. It says that:
- People working in the ‘gig economy’ should be officially called “dependent contractors”.
- Employees of firms like Uber and Deliveroo should be given holiday, maternity, paternity and sick pay. And they should get paid at least the national living wage.
- Firms should be incentivised to treat workers fairly.
- The government and consumers should stop cash-in-hand working.
Where’s the bold thinking?
But the review has already come in for criticism from Labour, the Green Party and trade unions. Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley said in a series of tweets:
#TaylorReview doesn’t appear to go far enough. Flexible workers need security. Do proposals deal with imbalance between workers and firms? What about bold thinking required to meet C21 challenges of rapidly changing world? #BasicIncome #4DayWeek…
And TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
I worry that many gig economy employers will be breathing a sigh of relief this morning. From what we’ve seen, this review is not the game-changer needed to end insecurity and exploitation at work.
If it smells like a Tory…
The Taylor Review, as with many Conservative-commissioned reports, is half-baked and full of holes. On the one hand, its author Matthew Taylor says “Bad work – insecure, exploitative, controlling – is bad for health and well being”. But on the other, he warns against any new “national regulation” and says that employers already face high, non-wage costs that should not be increased.
And just to make the review even more cynical, one of the panel of authors is an investor in Deliveroo. A firm that has been heavily criticised by MPs for its employment practices, like making staff sign a contract promising never to go to court to dispute their self-employed status. So the Taylor Review is yet more lip service by a government firmly on the side of the bosses, not the workers. To coin Long-Bailey: if it looks like a Tory review and smells like a Tory review, then it probably is a Tory review.
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