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Union hails ‘groundbreaking’ court victory over access to PPE for gig-economy workers

Judge rules in favour of IWGB challenge that Britain failed to properly implement an EU directive on PPE in relation to self-employed workers

A UNION representing thousands of “gig economy” workers hailed a “groundbreaking” court victory today over health-and-safety protection and access to personal protective equipment (PPE).

In a judgment delivered in the High Court in London today, Mr Justice Chamberlain ruled that Britain had failed to properly implement an EU directive on PPE in relation to self-employed workers who provide a service as part of a business.

He also found that Britain has failed to properly implement part of another EU directive designed to “encourage improvements in the health and safety of workers at work.”

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) had argued that the directives required Britain to provide protection to “workers,” but that hundreds of thousands of gig-economy workers were left unprotected because British law only protected “employees.”

The union brought its action action against the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy — the departments responsible for domestic legislation on health and safety at work — in October.

The IWGB said that many of its members who worked as couriers throughout the coronavirus pandemic were exposed to “serious risks” because of a lack of PPE, failures to implement social distancing while they were waiting for collections at restaurants and Covid-19 samples being incorrectly packaged.

IWGB general secretary Henry Chango Lopez said: “We are delighted with this win for workers’ rights.

“In the midst of the pandemic, health and safety at work has never been more important.

“It is crucial that businesses know they must protect the health and safety of their workers and that the government brings the criminal prosecutions necessary to enforce this law.”

IWGB solicitor Kate Harrison called on the government to take “urgent steps” to ensure that gig-economy workers can exercise their rights to health and safety and PPE.

TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Everybody deserves to be treated with dignity at work. 

“But many in low-paid and insecure jobs have been forced to shoulder huge risk during this crisis.

“Today’s judgment shows that the government was wrong to exclude gig-economy workers from key health and safety protections.

“It must now urgently review other key areas where vulnerable workers miss out, including parental rights and redundancy rights.”

The court gave the government two weeks to apply for appeal.

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