A UK employment court recently ruled that Uber drivers are not self-employed, and as such are entitled to benefits such as sick pay, holidays and a national minimum wage. Deliveroo and Hermes have since come under scrutiny as well, along with many other firms that may be contributing to the hundreds of thousands of falsely classified workers in the UK.
I’ve never seen the topic of bogus self-employment gain so much attention, and it’s reassuring to see efforts being made to make the definitions of employment more firm. A self-employed individual should be someone with no connection to one particular company, working hours of their choice at a rate they determine, but companies have been taking advantage of grey areas as an excuse to underpay and overwork their employees, or to put people to work who aren’t authorised to work in the UK.
As I’ve written and talked about for years, nowhere is the exploitation of this self-employment grey area more apparent than in the security industry. As the only requirement to be a security guard is to be in possession of a valid SIA license, companies across the UK can put guards to work as self-employed, allowing them to pay whatever they want for however many hours they want.
Like Uber, these guards usually only work for the one employer and do not choose their rates. They guard sites on a set shift pattern determined by their employer, just like a full-time employee would, but with no limits to how long they can be made to work, with many guards exceeding 40 hours a week and some going over 70.
Because there are no set hours, guards can also be punished by having their hours reduced with no consequences for the employer as they have few rights as a self-employed individual. This can result in all-or-nothing shifts, where guards who don’t accept low hourly rates or excessive hours are given the alternative of no work at all.
Where the security industry is far worse than Uber is in the fact that self-employed guards don’t have to be covered by insurance, transferring the liability for any accidents on site to the customer. This is how rogue security “agencies” are able to charge such low rates: the guards aren’t insured and they’re rarely backed up by a control team, making them vulnerable to injury or worse. This is why strict employment law is so vital: it doesn’t just protect workers, it protects the customers who are using their services as well.
If an Uber driver is forcing themselves to drive because they’re ill and don’t have sick pay, there could be disastrous consequences for themselves, their passengers and fellow drivers. Likewise, a guard pushing themselves to work despite having the flu is in no state to protect a site and the people within it. Property, stock and lives are at risk when a security guard is not fit to perform, whether it’s because they’re sick or they’re overworked.
Uber drivers and security guards are affected by similar issues. If anything, the latter faces more widespread and more dangerous exploitation, with dire consequences for the customers who purchase services from the rogue operators who employ them.
I hope the recent wave of scrutiny towards companies profiting from bogus self-employment soon hits the security industry, where it’s been long overdue. It’s had the opportunity to clean up its act itself, but unfortunately legal action from employment tribunals and HMRC may be what’s required to finally sweep away the bad actors.
Click here to read about how the security guards, security companies and their customers can get ahead of this problem, before it’s too late.
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