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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.


Press release

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.”

Philippa Childs, Head of Prospect’s BECTU Sector, said:

“The strength of our freelance membership in the media and entertainment sector, now nearly 14,000, shows that unions have a vital role to play wherever there is genuine self-employment. We offer our freelance members a raft of support – from advice on tax, employment status, pay, pensions and working conditions, to affordable training insurance and valuable networking opportunities.

“Of course, we oppose bogus self-employment and the exploitation it has brought in the gig economy, particularly for younger workers. Many of BECTU’s freelance members value their working relationships with clients and, with our backing, enjoy greater control over how they are treated. Despite changes in the profile of the UK workforce, it’s clear that there’s still a job for unions to do – whether championing the rights of workers who are employees, genuinely self-employed, or working through personal service companies.”



Contact: Rabyah Khan, media and communications manager at the Fabian Society
0207 227 4906 | 07888861096 | 

  1. Getting Organised is available here.
  2. Getting Organised has been published by the Fabian Society with the support of Trust for London.
  3. This report represents not the collective views of the organisations involved but only the views of the individual author.
  4. Jason Brock, report author and Fabian Society senior researcher, is available for interview.
  5. The Fabian Society is Britain’s oldest political think tank. Founded in 1884, the Society is at the forefront of developing political ideas and public policy on the left. The society is alone among think tanks in being a democratically-constituted membership organisation, with over 7,000 members. It is constitutionally affiliated to the Labour party.
  6. Trust for London is an independent charitable foundation aiming to tackle poverty and inequality in London.

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