A health warning for employers in the gig economy

Gig economy workers Iosh sponsored feature

Contractors and temps feel less well cared for than permanent employees, a survey suggests. Do you take the wellbeing of all your workers similarly seriously?

The increasing flexibility of the UK labour market may help to keep our economy adaptable and globally competitive, yet there is a downside associated with such flexibility: some employers are using it simply to slash their costs and “transfer risk to, and exert control over, workers”.

This was one of the conclusions drawn by Matthew Taylor, CEO of the Royal Society of Arts, who published his independent review of modern working practices for the government last summer.

More than a third (36 per cent) of people working in the UK are not in permanent full-time employment. Are people in this large and growing category being treated as second-class citizens in the workplace?

An employer’s duty of care to those working for it does not vary according to their employment status: if the employer is directing someone’s activity, it is liable for the safety and wellbeing of that person.

So says the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (Iosh), which responded to the Taylor review’s findings by commissioning market research firm Opinium to investigate levels of consistency in safety, health and wellbeing provision by employers for people in various types of employment.

When it asked 100 business leaders and 500 gig-economy workers across the UK for their views on how those outside permanent full-time employment are treated, Opinium found clear gaps in perception between the two groups.

For instance, while 77 per cent of the employers said that all workers were treated with the same care in their organisations, only 62 per cent of the non- permanent workers agreed.

“My current firm provides a positive experience for all, but my previous one didn’t care,” said one gig-economy worker, a 21-year-old MA student.

“After I was forced to work when I’d contracted norovirus and then had to go home sick, it didn’t offer me any further work for a long time.”

The survey found many inconsistencies in how workers in the flexible labour market are treated. This is why both Taylor and Iosh advocate the adoption by employers of a “day-one agreement” setting out the level of care that every new recruit will receive.

According to Taylor, Iosh’s survey highlights the barriers preventing flexible workers from “enjoying the same standards of safety and health as their permanent colleagues.

There are cowboys, of course, but this is often down to employers’ thoughtlessness – they don’t care enough that flexible workers are protected.”

Iosh’s director of strategic development, Shelley Frost, points out that health risks at work “don’t discriminate by employment status. There should be no discrepancies between employers’ safeguards for permanent employees and those for non-permanent workers.

“When the government responds to the Taylor review, we want it to consider our findings and the health risks faced by workers not in permanent full-time jobs.”

Key findings from the IOSH survey

While 47 per cent of business leaders said they provided health and safety training for all workers, whatever their status, only 33 per cent of non-permanent workers said they had been offered it.

Only 11 per cent of non- permanent workers said they had been given access to health promotion activities – eg, gym memberships – yet 33 per cent of employers said such benefits were available to all

For more information on Iosh, visit iosh.co.uk

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