The gig economy - slaves to convenience or old fashioned exploitation

Laura Banks

22 October 2018


Belfast today is thriving. It has hard to drive through the city centre on any day of the week without seeing a cyclist on their way to deliver food and courier vans are never far away, delivering packages from all over the world to the doorsteps every day.

Things are changing. The way we eat, travel and make purchases is now dominated by internet technology, and can be done through an app on a phone, tablet or even a smart watch. Gone are the days where options for ordering food are limited to your local fast food outlets, ordering a taxi from your local depot by phone and visiting the high street on a Saturday. Now we can do all of these things day or night online and enjoy the convenience of getting said products delivered to our door. By a person on a bike or car, or maybe even via drone. This may open the door to a wealth of choice, excellent value for money and remarkable convenience for consumers but at what price?

It is well known that the people working for these companies are often stripped of employment rights. They are usually not considered employees but rather self-employed contractors. They are often on zero hours contracts. To some, this may seem convenient. They can fit their work around their life whether that might be their studies, caring responsibilities, hobbies or another job. They can work when they want to, in theory, and are not tied down. Likewise, the employer may not be obliged to give them steady hours or to pay tax, national insurance and benefits such as sickness and holiday pay. But what if the student delivering fast food on his or her bike falls off it, finds themselves injured and unable to get back on their bike. Will they be eligible to claim benefits having not been “employed” therefore not made national insurance contributions? Would they be eligible for statutory sick or maternity pay from the government? In years to come, what sort of pension will they be eligible for? Is this new way of doing things really a step forward or simply a step back to a time when employees had no rights and employers abused their powers?

As Edmund Burke famously said, slavery is a weed that falls on every soil. Could stripped away employment rights disguised as a modern way of doing things be a form of modern day exploitation? Time will tell.

For any query on employment issues, please contact Laura Banks of Francis Hanna & Co on or call 028 9024 3901 for a free, no obligation discussion.