17 November 2020
The High Court of Justice in the UK has ruled in favour of the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) that the government failed to transpose important EU health and safety protections into UK law.
In a detailed judgment handed down last week, Justice Chamberlain found that the UK has failed to grant workers in the ‘gig economy’ the rights they are entitled to under EU Health and Safety law.
The judgment means that workers in the ‘gig economy’ are entitled to the same EU-derived health and safety rights as employees.
These key rights are: to be provided with Personal Protective Equipment by the business they are working for, and the right to stop work in response to serious and imminent danger.
The union had claimed that workers not classed as employees have been denied the right to refuse unsafe work and the right to PPE, putting them in serious danger throughout the pandemic.
“The UK government must now urgently take steps to ensure that workers have the same protection as employees,” the union stated.
According to the union, the government’s failure to extend health and safety protections has left many workers in the ‘gig economy’ exposed to serious risks. One in ten adults engage in ‘gig economy’ work, which accounts for at least 4.7 million people working in the UK with little to no health and safety protections.
In the judicial review, it stated that the union had sought declarations that the UK has failed properly to transpose into domestic law two EU Directives.
The first is Council Directive 89/391/EC on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the health and safety of workers at work. The second is Council Directive 89/656/EC on the minimum health and safety requirements for the use by workers of personal protective equipment at the workplace.
The union’s central complaint is that the Directives require Member States to confer certain protections on “workers”, whereas the domestic legislation by which the UK has sought to transpose the Directives protects only “employees”. It said that this leaves those who are workers, but not employees without the protection EU law guarantees.
Henry Chango Lopez, IWGB General Secretary 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.”
Alex Marshall, IWGB President said, “Key workers have been calling for greater protection throughout the pandemic and this has largely fallen on the deaf ears of their employers. The IWGB contacted numerous companies during the first wave and they either did very little or nothing at all as they tried to escape any accountability for their workforce. This ruling is long overdue and the IWGB expects that in the light of this clear ruling, the UK Government will now take urgent legislative measures to ensure workers’ safety.”