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WORRIES about low pay and bad conditions in the “gig economy” are “propaganda from the unions,” according to Tory MP Charlie Elphicke, addressing a fringe meeting at the conference yesterday.
The packed meeting organised by free market think tank Institute for Economic Affairs also heard from the bosses of two delivery firms — Hermes and City Sprint — that rely on “self-employed” workers who denied that their staff had any problems.
The Dover MP told delegates that he had worked in the “gig economy” because he had been a barrister.
“We have to understand that when the Labour Party attack self-employment, attack what they call the gig economy, really they are harking after an age which is gone from a sense of nostalgia,” Mr Elphicke said.
“We shouldn’t always accept the propaganda of the unions, that really just want more members and the old-style industrial set-up that suits them, against the reality of the modern labour market and the choices that people have.”
In the one piece of criticism of the gig economy from the platform, Mr Elphicke said the government should be “merciless on big business” that wants to “take advantage” of bogus self-employment to reduce tax bills.
Clacton MP Giles Watling told MPs the gig economy was “the brave new world that we are entering now.
“People aren’t going to be tied to nine to five. It’s all about lifestyle choice as well. It’s not just about going into that factory and coming out at a certain time.”
Hermes CEO Carole Woodhead warned delegates about changing the law on the gig economy.
She said: “We have to make sure that the labour law actually suits what is wanted and demanded by customers, by retailers and actually by people in the labour market.
“We have to make sure that the vocal minority don’t end up with more legislation, more bureaucracy that doesn’t actually work for the vast majority.”
However what may suit “people in the labour market” was not found to suit Hermes employees who are paid less than the minimum wage and have resorted to using foodbanks, according to a parliamentary inquiry into the gig economy.
The inquiry led by Labour MP Frank Field also found Hermes managers pushing sick staff to return to work. None of these issues were reflected by the panel.
Chief executive of courier firm City Sprint Patrick Gallagher later insisted that “we’re the good guys.”
However the Independent Workers of Great Britain union has been running a campaign on City Sprint pay for the past two years, and in early 2017 won a key employment tribunal case saying one of the firms’ couriers should be classed as an employee, not self-employed.
A rare moment of criticism of the “gig economy” burst through the rosy glow with the first contribution from the floor of the meeting.
A Conservative delegate from south-east England told the meeting: “I think we are hearing only one side of the story. My niece worked for Hermes and had a horrible time and was horribly exploited.”
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