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Japan, Gig workers, Sportswear – Breakingviews

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Corona Capital is a daily column updated throughout the day by Breakingviews columnists around the world with short, sharp pandemic-related insights.

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– Japanese GDP

– Gig workers

– Sportswear

Desperately seeking bottom. Japan has posted a third consecutive quarter of contraction, with economic output declining 7.8% in the three months through June compared with the previous quarter. With real gross domestic product standing around $4.6 trillion, Covid-19 and the Sino-U.S. trade war may be jointly blamed for erasing the growth generated by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s “Abenomics” revival package. Or so Abe might prefer.

In fact, key reforms remained works in progress when external shocks hit, and Abe made mistakes, most notably with an ill-timed consumption tax last year. The stimulus package, advertised as 40% of GDP, hasn’t done much for exports or shopping. But the government spending component of those measures is only worth 5.6% of GDP, according to HSBC estimates. With core inflation at 0%, the spectre of psychologically crippling deflation looms, and with it the risk of another lost decade. (By Pete Sweeney)

Ahead of the mutation. Using gig workers allows Uber Technologies and Deliveroo to keep a lid on costs. But Just Eat Takeaway.com is planning to move in the opposite direction. Jitse Groen, boss of the $16 billion food delivery company, told the BBC that he would end gig working at his company across Europe. He will incur some costs in the short term. But they will be less than might be expected.

The company already provides insurance to its drivers in some countries, including the Netherlands and Germany. For most of its European food delivery orders, the company hooks up restaurants and customers online without providing logistics. That means there won’t be many freelance drivers asking for extra insurance payments. Gig workers that have been lifelines during coronavirus may force change at rivals. If so, Groen is stealing a march on his competitors at very little extra cost. (By Karen Kwok)

On your sharks. U.S. investor General Atlantic is buying a fifth of UK workout clothes company Gymshark, valuing it at more than 1 billion pounds. The valuation of 4 times sales in the year to July 2020 looks pricey compared with established players like Under Armour which trades at 1 times sales. Covid-19 is also a concern: the closure of gyms gave fitness fanatics fewer opportunities to show off their coordinating threads in recent months, and the threat of further waves of Covid-19 infection may make gym bunnies reluctant to return.

Still, the e-commerce brand has built a community of customers who are working out at home and revenue growth in the first three months of 2020 was its best yet. While the startup may never stretch to U.S. yoga brand Lululemon Athletica’s 12 times sales multiple, there is reason to believe the hype. (By Dasha Afanasieva)

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Egypt to register millions of gig workers for state insurance, aid | Business , Regional

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Gig workers need fair deal in our ‘convenience’ economy

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COMMENT | In a simpler age, there was only one number to remember for food deliveries. Helpfully, there was a jingle that was repeated often on the few radio stations that operated back then. There were fewer digits in the telephone number itself which made it fit better in a melodic hook that was only a few seconds long (though I can’t recall hearing a Malay version of tujuh-lima-lima…).

You had the option of ordering various pizzas, garlic bread, or simple pasta dishes, which were a huge treat back then, what more the novelty of having it delivered directly to your front gate.

Of course, today food deliveries are common. Some are still operated by the restaurants, but usually, they are available through popular food delivery apps, which are the bedrock of the convenience economy.

Consumers are now able to get access to food, goods, and services whenever, wherever, and however they like, made possible by hundreds of thousands of people zigging and zagging their way across cities.

Like many things, the pandemic and multiple lockdowns have sped up the widespread adoption of delivery services by businesses and customers, but it was already a growing trend before that.

It made sense. Why spend time travelling, parking, and all that hassle waiting for food elsewhere, when you can just make a few taps and continue being in the comfort of your own home? There are also a huge number of promotions and deals giving you discounts on your orders, while earning you points for more deals in the future. It’s not a difficult choice to make, and this was pre-Covid-19.

Once the virus was in the picture, staying home was not only the…

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How to decide if a gig economy worker is an employee or self-employed? Guidance from UK Supreme Court’s decision in landmark Uber case

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Introduction

In recent years, the advance in technology and shifting economic conditions have contributed to the emergence and rise of “gig economy”. Gig economy refers to on-demand, peer or platform economy. It often involves a business model where individuals take up on-demand jobs or gig works through digital platforms such as a smartphone application or website. Popular examples of such applications in Hong Kong include Uber and Deliveroo.

While gig workers are often viewed as “self-employed persons” or “independent contractors” in many jurisdictions and are unable to enjoy protections under labour law, a recent UK Supreme Court decision classified Uber drivers as “workers” and ruled that they are entitled to minimum wage, paid leave and other legal protection. Although the services provided by Uber has been ruled illegal in Hong Kong, the case sheds light on the classifications of gig workers in general.

UK Supreme Court ruling

In Uber BV and Others (Appellants) v Aslam and others (Respondents) [2021] UKSC 5, the UK Supreme Court explored the employment status of private hire vehicle drivers who provide their services through the Uber application. The UK employment law distinguishes three categories of persons who enjoy varying degrees of labour protection, including: 

  1. those employed under a contract of employment (which is akin to the concept of “employees” under Hong Kong employment law); 
  2. those self-employed people who are in business on their own account and undertake work for their clients (which is similar to the concept of “independent contractors” under Hong Kong employment law); and 
  3. those “workers” in an intermediate class who are self-employed but provide their services as part of a profession or business undertaking carried on by someone else, who tend to have some characteristics of both of the above categories (but there is no such intermediate category of “workers” under Hong Kong employment law). 

The Supreme Court’s findings 

The Supreme Court considered the purpose of the relevant statutory provisions, which is to offer protection to those people who are in a subordinate and dependent position in relation to the employer and are vulnerable to exploitation.

In determining the status of Uber drivers, the Supreme Court took into account a number of facts found by the labour tribunal which point towards to the relative degree of control exercised by Uber over their drivers. These findings of facts include (1) Uber being able to fix the remuneration paid to drivers, (2) the contractual terms on which drivers perform their services are dictated by Uber, (3) once drivers logged onto the Uber application, their choice of accepting requests for rides is restricted by Uber, (4) Uber exerts significant control over how drivers deliver their services by various methods including vetting the types of cars, suggesting routes and using rating systems for managing performance and terminating relationship with drivers, as well as (5) restricting communication between passengers and drivers to prevent drivers from establishing any relationship beyond am individual ride. 

On the basis of the labour tribunal’s findings of facts, the Supreme Court ruled that Uber exerted tight control on the drivers and the services provided. The drivers were in a position of subordination and dependency in relation to Uber such that the drivers had little or no ability to improve their economic position through professional or entrepreneurial skill. In practice, the only way the drivers can increase their earnings was by working longer hours while constantly meeting Uber’s measures of performance. The Supreme Court found that the drivers were rightly found as “workers” under UK employment law.

Classification in Hong Kong

In Hong Kong, an individual may perform work as an “employee” or an “independent contractor”. As per the Court of Final Appeal’s decision in the leading case of Poon Chau Nam v Yim Siu Cheung [2007] 1 HKLRD 951, the modern approach to the question of whether one person was another’s employee is to examine all the features of their relationship against the background of the indicia developed in the case law with a view to deciding whether, as a matter of overall impression, the relationship was one of employment. The following indicia of employment, albeit not exhaustive, will be likely be considered by the court to decide whether there is an employer-employee between the parties:

  • the degree of control exercised by the employer; 
  • who provided the equipment for performing the services; 
  • whether the individual may hire additional helpers for performing the services;  
  • the degree of financial risk taken by the parties; 
  • the degree of responsibility for investment and management of the parties; and 
  • whether and how far the individual had an opportunity of profiting from sound management in the performance of his or her tasks. 

Although the classifications adopted by the English and Hong Kong Courts are not identical, and it seems that in Hong Kong there is a higher threshold for individuals to be entitled to protections under its employment law as “employees”, the case still sheds light on the possibility that the Hong Kong Court may reach an overall impression that gig workers such as Uber drivers are not independent contractors given the significant degree of control that the business has over the gig workers, which is an important factor that Hong Kong Courts would consider when determining whether an employer-employee relationship exists

At the same time, there have been calls on the Hong Kong Government to address the emergence and rise of gig economy and review the existing labour legislation to enhance protection of labour rights of gig workers. However, the Hong Kong Government has stated that it has no plan to expand the scope of the current employment legislation to cover selfemployed persons

Takeaways

For companies which adopt business models involving the provision of services by gig workers, it is imperative to consider the classification of such gig workers from an early stage and seek professional advice on the issue if needed. Whether an individual is classified as an “employee” or an “independent contractor” will have significant impact in terms of the statutory benefits enjoyed by the individual and the statutory duties and obligations imposed on employers, which may in turn affect the financial planning, risk management and business viability of the companies. 

 

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