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Unions must organise and stand up for self-employed workers, says new Fabian Society report

Trade unions need to better represent the UK’s 4 million self-employed workers, according to a new report by the Fabian Society.



Getting Organised calls on unions to respond to the rising number of self-employed workers – 49% of whom are low-paid – by adopting a 3-part plan which includes campaigning for a statutory definition of self-employment.

In the decade since the 2008 global financial crisis, the number of self-employed workers has risen dramatically and the number of self-employed workers experiencing low-pay and poor terms and conditions has also risen. It is estimated that some 460,000 workers are falsely categorised as self-employed by employers looking to cut costs but only 7% of self-employed workers are currently members of a trade union.

To address this surge in precarious employment and encourage union membership, Getting Organised calls on trade unions to make use of digital organising, develop union services for the low-paid self-employed, and campaign for legal change.

The report recommends unions should:

  • Take digital and technological opportunities to develop bespoke organising and engagement of those in bogus self-employment, particularly where workers may be geographically disparate.
  • Campaign for the introduction of a statutory definition of self-employment.
  • Adapt their member offers to include tailored insurance and assistance services for self-employed workers and encourage self-employed workers to set up cooperatives.

Getting Organised shows how some trade unions such as the GMB, have started legally challenging employers like Uber over its classification of workers as self-employed, with success. Similarly, BECTU’s success in building partnerships to negotiate terms and conditions for freelance performers and creative professionals could provide lessons for other trade unions. The report notes higher self-employment is likely to be a feature of the UK labour force for the foreseeable future.

Jason Brock, report author and senior researcher, Fabian Society said:

“Self-employment is now an established feature of the UK labour market. Getting Organised demonstrates why union engagement with self-employed workers is so important and why trade unions should do more to campaign for a statutory definition of self-employment.”

Read Getting Organised here.

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