Health and Safety protections extended to Gig economy workers

The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain v The Secretary of State for Work & Pensions and others.

A recent decision by the High Court to extend health-and-safety protections those engaged in the gig economy will have a huge impact on hundreds of thousands of workers.

The Independent Workers Unions of Great Britain brought the legal claim against the Department for Work and Pensions on behalf of its 5,000 or so members. Many of these members are frontline workers who have provided essential services throughout the pandemic and as such have been exposed to a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. Workers raised issues concerning a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), a lack of proper implementation of social-distancing and a failure to package samples safely.

The High Court held that the Government had failed to properly implement Article 8(4) and (5) of the EU Health and Safety Framework Directive, which requires protection to be extended to all those considered ‘workers’ under EU law.

The court also held that workers should have the same protection as employees under the Employment Rights Act 1996. This legislation states that workers should not suffer a detriment if they leave – or refuse to return to – the workplace where there is serious or imminent danger, or if they take appropriate steps to protect themselves from such danger.

The pandemic is clearly shining a harsh light on workplace shortcomings of this nature, and the harmful effect they’ve had on many frontline workers with higher exposure to coronavirus.

In light of the High Court ruling, businesses that engage gig economy workers would be well-advised to ensure they have the same health-and-safety protections as employees.