ICTU Biennial Delegates Conference: Speech by Davy Thompson on Scourge of Bogus Self-Employment

Unite 041July 4th: Speaking in support of motion 11 on the need to challenge Bogus Self-Employment at the Irish Congress of Trade Union’s Biennial Delegate Conference in Belfast, Unite Regional Coordinating Officer Davy Thompson said:

Bogus self-employment is a scourge faced by growing numbers of workers in our economy.

Workers who in the past would have had full-time jobs and proper working contracts have been compelled through employment agencies or unscrupulous employers to declare themselves as self-employed.

Workers who previously would have had rights in regard to a bare minimum in hourly pay, rights to a workplace pensions, defined holiday entitlements and security of tenure – have either had to take responsibility for their own tax returns or subscribe to a bogus self-employment agency.

This practice has been pioneered in the black economy in particular at the fringes of the construction sector where subbies have outsourced work to other subbies. The consequences on minimum wages paid, on health and safety, on terms and conditions and on the ability of workers to secure union representation have been dreadful and consistent.

Sadly, this business model has now moved to the mainstream.

Across the UK, scores of payroll administration companies have been set up to coordinate industrial-scale bogus self-employment. To add insult to injury they actually charge workers for making their bogus annual self-employment declarations to the taxman.

While billions has been spent by Westminster witch-hunting the few who make fraudulent benefits claims, virtually nothing has been done in regard to stamp out the multi-billion pound bogus self-employment industry or to close down these third party payroll agencies.

As accurate figures are just not available to get a sense of what’s happening we must consider the leap that there has been in the numbers declaring ‘self-employed’ in the economy. In Northern Ireland numbers self-employed have grown by a staggering 17.5%, or 17,000 workers, in just the two years to the beginning of 2017. It is estimated at least half those are bogus self-employed.

The rise in self-employment is not due to a blossoming of entrepreneurship. It is indicative of a new business model where the likes of Uber and Deliveroo are using new technologies to exploit their workers and gaining mainstream respectability for their ‘innovative business model’ in the process.

The situation across these islands is the same. The response of unions must be resolute.

We must find new ways to defend those caught in this and other forms of precarious working.  Unite and the GMB have led the way in using the limited protections afforded by the courts to stem the tide of exploitation by companies like Uber. That fight must continue.

We must recruit those at the coalface of twenty-first century exploitative working. We must demand legislation and real enforcement action to put an end to this practice and punish those who use it to avoid paying payroll taxes and to duck out of pensions’ contributions, minimum pay laws and workers’ hard-won terms and conditions.

Bogus self-employment and Zero Hours contracts must be outlawed!

I urge delegates to support this motion and to campaign with us to defeat all forms of precarious working and worker exploitation!

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