Gig economy report: a “forlorn tribute to compromise”

Matthew Taylor’s Good Work report on the “gig economy” has “satisfied no one” – so he probably has “the balance about right”, says The Daily Telegraph. Campaigners and trade unionists have called it a “missed opportunity” to put an end to the “exploitation” of self-employed workers, while some firms have expressed concern that it will affect their ability to hire.

The difficulty Taylor has – and recognises – is that Britain currently has record levels of employment, high levels of voluntary flexibility, and earnings that are rising fastest among the lowest paid. The key thing is “not to mess this up”. He also realises that a job minus the protections of a staff job is “better than no job at all”.

So while Taylor sees a “role” for government to ensure all work is “fair and decent”, it is hard to see how this can happen without regulation “inimical” to the flexibility he admires. And while unscrupulous employers do exist, “zero-hours contacts suit more employees than they harm”, says The Times. People are “flocking” to provide services for app-based platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo.

The “real harm” such platforms do is to deprive the Treasury of “fair tax revenues” in the form of national insurance. Given all this, it is no wonder, says Rafael Behr in The Guardian, that Taylor’s report “offers complex and incomplete answers” and “reads like a forlorn tribute to compromise”.

It’s too early to see whether the report will make any difference, says Rowena Mason in the same paper. Theresa May hasn’t promised any legislation, merely that the government will “carefully study” the recommendations. These include ensuring that gig-economy workers have sick and holiday pay, and a definition of “dependent contractors” that prevents employers from incorrectly claiming workers are self-employed.

In any case, as the report’s “stronger language” was reserved for the app-based gig economy – a “small fraction” of Britain’s five million army of self-employed – the “broader impact” of any change would be small, says the FT. Tellingly, the share prices of groups with large numbers of low-paid staff, such as Tesco and Sports Direct, “barely moved”.