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Union to take government to court over lethal PPE failings

GIG ECONOMY workers are dragging the government to court over health and safety legislation failures that left key workers without vital personal protective equipment (PPE) during the pandemic.

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) was given the go ahead by the High Court today to proceed with a judicial review that could extend health and safety rights to hundreds of thousands of so-called gig economy workers.

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary Alok Sharma will be joining Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey as defendants to the proceedings.

The union says the government has failed in its obligations to transpose health and safety directives from EU law into British law. 

In Britain health and safety law only protects employees, but EU law extends these protections to all people classified as workers, the union argues.

A food courier working for Stuart, who wanted to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals, said: “I deliver food to people’s homes and Stuart hasn’t offered me a single piece of protective equipment since the start of the crisis. 

“Not even hand sanitiser. I was struggling to find it on my own and I have underlying health conditions so I can’t risk catching the virus. 

“I was forced to stop work and now there’s no money coming in, I don’t know how I’m supposed to survive.”

If successful, the judicial review would force the government to extend health and safety protections to all workers, including a right to PPE and to bring legal action against an employer if a worker suffers a detriment, or is dismissed after refusing to work under unsafe conditions. 

IWGB president Henry Chango Lopez highlighted that gig economy workers die in particularly high numbers from Covid-19. Taxi drivers and chauffeurs for example suffer 65 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the Office for National Statistics.

Mr Chango Lopez said: “This isn’t by accident, but the result of a failure by this and past governments to properly implement health and safety legislation. 

“For far too long, the government has turned a blind eye to the abuses of gig economy employers, allowing them to make up the rules as they go along, while ignoring the safety of their staff. 

“With this case we will start to reclaim some of the basic rights that are being routinely denied to these workers.”

IWGB has launched a crowdfunder to cover the potential cost liabilities of the case, which the judge has capped to £4,500.

The union has managed to raise nearly £3,000 so far. Donations can be made at: crowdjustice.com/case/health-and-safety/

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