The National Group on Homeworking and the Trades Union Congress (TUC) are urging the government to close an existing legal loophole which continues to deny self-employed workers access to basic employment rights.
Supporting their call for an employment status review; the two organisations have released details of a case which illustrates the extent of the problem.
Nine women from Gosport, Hampshire asked their employer of 14 years an industrial rubber mouldings business to be paid the minimum wage. The women were told they would not receive any more work unless they signed new contracts stating their employment status as being self-employed.
The aggrieved women escalated their case to an Employment Tribunal who quashed their claim finding in favour of the business.
The Gosport claimants subsequently lost their jobs and were later also denied their rights to redundancy pay and unfair dismissal by an Employment Appeals Tribunal.
TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: “It is totally unacceptable that employers can deprive individuals of their rights simply by inserting dubious clauses into existing contracts, especially when workers are strong armed into signing away their rights.
“Unscrupulous employers are increasingly taking advantage of vulnerable groups like homeworkers, agency workers and freelancers. Only when these individuals are given the same rights as employees will bad bosses no longer be able to exploit on such a widespread scale.”
Claimant Beverley Dew commented: “The law is unfair and unjust. I have been working for this company since 1989 but all this time counts for nothing. The company has penalised me for asking to be paid the national minimum wage. It seems crazy that all my rights depend on a contract that I was forced to sign. I was told the work would dry up if I didn’t agree to sign, but because I did sign, I now have no rights under the law.”