Launching gig economy review, May hopes to regain authority

Britain's Prime Minister, Theresa May, attends an Armed Forces Day event in Liverpool, Britain, June 24, 2017. REUTERS/Andrew Yates

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May will try to wrest back control of Britain’s political agenda on Tuesday by unveiling proposals to protect workers in the “gig economy” in a direct challenge to opposition parties.

May wants to signal that it is business as usual for her government after an ill-judged election gamble damaged her authority and threw away her governing Conservatives’ majority in parliament, emboldening the main opposition Labour Party.

She hopes that the launch of the review into employment practices which she ordered shortly after becoming prime minister almost a year ago will re-set her agenda and show that her pledge to help those Britons who are “just about managing” is more than just a slogan.

The review, compiled by Chief Executive of The Royal Society of Arts Matthew Taylor, calls for a new category of worker called a “dependent contractor” meaning that those Britons working for companies such as taxi app Uber and takeaway food courier Deliveroo would receive more benefits.

“While avoiding overbearing regulation, we will make sure people have the rights and protections they need,” May will say.

May will challenge her political rivals to “contribute, not just criticise” her plans – a move reflecting both her need for help to pass reforms through parliament, and her resolve to press ahead despite questions about her future as leader.

More and more people are working for apps in fast-growing sectors such as takeaway delivery and taxi services, and while wanting the flexibility such work offers, some say they are left without the protection that workers in more traditional forms of employment receive.

Last year, judges sided with two self-employed drivers at Uber, who had argued that they deserve workers’ rights such as the minimum wage, in a move which would add to the San Francisco-based firm’s costs, prompting it to appeal.

In Britain, the self-employed have no entitlement to employment rights beyond basic health and safety and anti-discrimination laws.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May meets Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at Downing Street, in London, Britain, July 10, 2017.Hannah McKay

Regular workers, by contrast, receive entitlements such as annual leave, rest breaks and the minimum wage.

The report suggested an employment category be created known as “dependent contractors” with an eye on those working for platforms such as apps.

Firms will also have to prove that a person working for them is able to earn at least 1.2 times the national living wage, which stands at 7.50 pounds ($9.65) an hour for the over-25s, the BBC reported on Monday.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May talks with Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at Downing Street, London, Britain, July 10, 2017.Hannah McKay

“We need to provide additional protections for this group and stronger incentives for firms to treat them fairly,” according to the report.

“The best way to achieve better work is not national regulation but responsible corporate governance, good management and strong employment relations within the organisation.”

But in advance of the report’s release, Britain’s biggest union Unite said it was up to businesses to enforce workers’ rights and the government needed to make sure entitlements were upheld.

May hopes the report will woo working class voters, but the opposition Labour said it did little more to highlight their record of “failing working people”.

“Put simply, today’s Taylor Report shows that Theresa May is failing working people across the country,” said Rebecca Long-Bailey, Labour’s business spokeswoman.

“If they were serious about workers’ rights they are welcome to borrow from Labour’s manifesto.”

Writing by Elizabeth Piper, Costas Pitas and William James; Editing by Richard Balmforth