Should we boycott Uber?

Rebecca Long-Bailey
(Image from Wikipedia)
Apparently, the shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long-Bailey has said that she won't use Uber, the cab company, because doing so is 'not morally acceptable.'

Like many decisions that span politics, business and employment the right thing to do here is not clear cut - there are far more shades of grey than black and white certainties. Ms Long-Bailey suggests that Uber exploits their drivers by treating them as self-employed, and thus preventing them from having the rights of an employed worker.

On the one hand I can see that the gig economy (effectively freelancing) has potential benefits. I've effectively been a gig economy worker ever since I left BA in 1994. I don't get any benefits like paid holiday or paid sick leave or a company pension. I probably earn less than I would have if I'd stayed working for a big company. But in exchange I have the flexibility to work when I like for whoever I like, provided I can persuade them that it's worth them paying me the money. It's not always easy, but there's no way I would go back to being directly employed by someone else.

However, on the other hand, it's clear that many of those employed in the modern gig economy have far less flexibility than I have. Companies like Uber and Deliveroo may not necessarily be as free and easy with their offers of work as they like to suggest. Being a freelance is always a balance between self-determination, potential earnings and risk - and it does seem that when working for these new gig providers, there just isn't enough self-determination and potential for earning to balance out the risk.

I'm not sure Ms Long-Bailey's approach is the right one, though. It's more likely to result in an Uber driver earning less than in the company suffering too much. (I couldn't emulate her, anyway, as we don't have Uber in Swindon and Deliveroo won't come out as far as where I live.) But I do think that we need some kind of legislation to level the playing field.

Matthew Taylor from the RSA was asked to come up with a solution and suggests a midway role of a 'dependent contractor', entitled to sick pay, holidays and the like for those workers who are occupying a freelance type position but without the freedom and self-determined flexibility that should go with this kind of job. I'm not sure he's the right person to solve this, as he seems to have been a career bureaucrat, and his suggested solution sounds likely to pile up the red tape. Perhaps legislation would be better directed at ensuring that companies like Uber and Deliveroo don't abuse their position, and are required instead to remove any restrictive practices and payment structures that lock their people into being effective zero hour contract employees who lack employee benefits. Then we might see the best of both worlds.