Having just finished appearing on the panel at the Pro Driver North (although you wouldn’t know it because for some reason I was left out of the website, thank you PD editor) there were a few issues that were thrown around, and guess what? Operators in the north of England have many of the same challenges as operators in the south of England. Who knew?
From national licensing to the challenges of technology, the scary perennials marched out to test us further and of course for the third year running nestling at the bottom of the second session were my greatest loves and my greatest tribulations, all rolled into one. Employment issues and “the gig economy”. Luckily that was what I was there to put my ten penneth in for.
Did we come to a conclusion? The exceptionally knowledgeable Dominic Moxon-Trisch (clever guy, look him up) quite rightly pointed out that the legislative landscape is changing and (as he sees it) the impending implementation of ‘worker’ as an intermediate status in a market where the majority of drivers are currently self-employed means a sea change for operators.
We all know the two leading decisions in the court of appeal, Smith versus Pimlico plumbers and Aslam & Farrar versus Uber. According to Dominic in both of those cases although there is a trail of subsidiary legislation in inferior courts, he believes that running a scaled model of self-employment has lost almost without exception. And that the business model that we have grown accustomed to over the last forty years is now at greater risk of reclassification than any other time in that period.
I believe him to be correct, in essence, of the inevitability of the future. However, the free market is both a strict and yet accommodating mistress. In real terms for my clients and all of you out there, simple commerciality and practicality will mean that our medium-term future is less bleak. I do believe that the operator’s relationship with their drivers will need to be fundamentally changed and there will be a lot of political positioning with regard to min wage, working hours, sickness pay etc. We know that earlier this year even Uber bowed to pressure, in giving drivers sick pay and parental leave, even with their robust defence at the Employment tribunal.
And yet let’s see what happens to The Taylor Report recommendations which we expect to be legislated soon. Much of the intended worker status as well as the massive Making Tax Digital rollout was lost in the turmoil of Brexit plans. It was thought to be too much for big business all in one go.
However, as a company that engages self employed workers, it is still plausible and possible to put your stall out and protect yourself. The badges of trade are still relevant, mutuality of obligation and personal service, and the HMRC must still prove Supervision and Control.
I personally don’t like the term ‘gig economy’. It is being used as a stick to beat people in what is a traditional trading model. It was generally agreed that good operators realise that good drivers generate the most income and they’re usually the ones that your customers like too. They need to ensure that they are working with the best, and most reliable. Therefore, to provide the right environment, where drivers feel valued makes good sense and great service creates loyalty. It’s the same rule for drivers and clients. Once again good commercial sense and good common sense will ensure your future whilst protecting the individual rights of drivers.