Precarious work on rise
by Diarmaid Mac a Bhaird

Precarious work in the ‘gig economy’ is on the rise in Ireland and the UK, and poses significant challenges for policy makers and trade unions, according to Fórsa head of communications Bernard Harbor. His comments came in response to the publication of Shifting the risk, a report into precarious work by the Trade Union Congress (TUC), Britain’s equivalent of ICTU.


The report says basic employment rights are being breached on a huge scale in Britain, and that enforcement mechanisms are failing UK workers. It outlines how enforcement mechanisms could be strengthened “in a climate where organisations are proactively taking steps to transfer their employment law and tax obligations to other parties.”


Gig economy and other precarious workers lose protections because they are defined as contractors rather than workers or employees. As a result they can effectively be paid below the legal minimum or be unfairly dismissed. And they can be denied benefits like holiday pay and sick leave.


An ICTU study published at the end of last year revealed a dramatic 34% rise in part-time work and self-employment, which unions say is “indicative of significant growth in bogus or false self-employment.” The report found that, while more prevalent in the private sector, precarious work had spread to health, education and public administration.


The TUC estimates that five million UK workers are unable to enforce their basic rights. It says that extending joint liability is the only way to ensure workers are able to seek compensation if their legal rights are breached.


“Some of the report’s recommendations about what can be done to address the difficulties workers face having their rights enforced could be relevant in Ireland. Basic employment rights are being violated and parent companies need to be held accountable for their responsibilities to everyone working for them,” said Harbor.

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