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Reshaping the gig economy: union representation and worker protections – with Uber

How do companies balance flexibility with maintaining workers' protections and benefits?

Flexible work has existed for decades. Think about local hairdressers, personal trainers, or tutors working for themselves – or even the jazz musicians in the early 1900s who coined the term ‘gig economy’. But the past ten years of technology have made it more accessible – and visible – to both the people who use it and those who work in it.

But what is the right balance between job autonomy, economic security and worker’s rights? Is there a world where an evolving  labour market provides proper workers’ protections and union representation while maintaining real autonomy and flexibility?

This New Statesman podcast, sponsored by Uber ahead of the three year anniversary of their groundbreaking recognition agreement with GMB – the first of its kind in the gig economy – breaks down all of this and more, to discuss the future of work in 21st-century Britain.

Journalist Suze Cooper was joined by a panel of guests including  Sir Stephen Timms, MP for East Ham since 1994 and Chair of Parliament’s Work and Pensions Select Committee; the GMB trade union’s National Secretary, Andy Prendergast and Uber’s UK General Manager, Andrew Brem.

Through the episode, they discussed how changes in ways of working have come to the fore in our everyday lives, with technological advances seeing less of a focus on traditional industries and more on the dynamic, flexible labour market of the 21st century. Alongside these transformations we’ve seen the world of work change in other ways with the rise of hybrid working environments, the gig and sharing economy, work-from-anywhere culture and digital nomads. The pandemic has sped up and baked in these developments across the UK, as people’s approach to work-life balance adjusted, with workers seemingly coming to value their autonomy in much more profound ways than previous generations.

Options for flexible work across various apps and platforms have enabled more choice for millions of people around their working patterns, choosing when and where they earn. More and more, it appears British workers are putting greater value on autonomy and flexibility in their lives and careers than their parents and grandparents did, balancing work around other responsibilities like caring or studying. 

But the question for the UK – and considered by the panel throughout this episode – is how best to deliver this flexibility and autonomy whilst not compromising on the protections and benefits workers need.

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