In recent weeks a big spot-light has been shone on the gig economy workers and those on zero or low hour contracts. They provide support in much needed roles in our everyday lives from making deliveries, admin and research, teaching, through to staffing the care homes for the elderly and vulnerable. Even now when government advice is to self-isolate for 2 weeks if you have symptoms of the COVID-19 virus, it is those same gig and zero-hour workers who likely will be taking care of business and keeping things running while others try and stay away from society.
“Some industry analysts foresee the number of home deliveries doubling if people are told to work from home and avoid large gatherings under the government’s so-called social-distancing strategy, which will kick in if the virus continues to spread across the country.” writes Tom Wall of the Guardian
This persistence with going to work is not only necessary for the running of our deliveries, shops, and services but also because all too often the zero-hour workers can’t afford to take the time off work.
It was heartening to see such a big name like Hermes Delivery taking the lead in supporting their self employed team members. Even though they don’t normally offer sick pay to this group, they will be paying their delivery workers if they need to self isolate. They would also keep the door open for their return which is often something that weighs heavily on gig workers - if they miss work, will there still be work available to them in the future?
Martijn De Lange, the chief executive of Hermes UK says, “We have taken the decision to help support our couriers financially if they need help and also ensure we are doing everything we can to prevent the spread of the virus. It is simply the right thing to do and I hope that other organisations will follow our lead.”
“Hermes said it would also help couriers find someone to deliver on their behalf if they did not have a substitute. Usually that responsibility falls on the courier. It said it would also guarantee that their rounds would be kept open for them for when they returned." writes the social correspondent for the Guardian Robert Booth.
Hermes follow on from Greggs who have said they will pay their workers even if they self-isolate - the difference being that Greggs proudly states they don’t have zero-hour contracts. And there’s the difference - being on zero-hour contracts mean you could be at risk of severe income volatility.
Gig workers have been taking the threat of getting ill (and spreading disease) seriously for far longer than the coronavirus disease has been around, as missing work could lead to financial difficulties or loss of future work.
“Back on the streets of London, drivers are doing what they can to limit new cases of coronavirus. Josh Lane (not his real name) jumps into his DPD Local van after making a delivery in Tottenham. He cleans his hands with hand sanitiser. “I’m in a rush, but I’m doing my bit,” he says through the rolled-down window to Tom Wall who interviewed a host of gig-workers for the Guardian.
Kari Paul of the Guardian spoke to Gregg, "who has given 16,000 rides for Uber and Lyft, says he is taking precautions: frequently disinfecting his vehicle, avoiding picking up passengers at airports and even giving one rider a low rating in the past week for coughing without covering their mouth.”
Companies are already responding to the crisis and offering services like online meeting rooms and webinar facilities and gig-workers in this area are seeming to flourish. Other companies are offering their services in a new and growing sector helping gig-workers and those on zero-hour contracts get the benefits their peers in full time employment already enjoy such as Collective benefits and our own Team at Wollit coming soon.
To find out more about how a pandemic affects those on zero-hour or short term contracts please read the RSA summary by Will Grimond, “How will the Coronavirus affect the gig economy?”
Dr Marianne Pearson - Head of Research