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How trade unions can help the self-employed in the post-coronavirus world

Tom Railton · 2 February 2021

The world of work is changing under our feet. Whether it is the rise of automation, or the introduction of flexible working, trends in employment are changing the reality of work for millions of people across the UK.

One of the most significant of these trends in recent years has been the rise of self-employment, which has seen rapid growth since 2001. Now roughly 15% of all workers in Britain are self-employed.

This is a far cry from the world of work into which trade unions were born, characterised by large workplaces and rigid hierarchies between bosses and workers. But when work changes, unions must change too. At Prospect we are proud of the steps we have taken to make sure we are a home for all workers, whether employees, freelance, or self-employed.

Do the self-employed need unions?

To some this might sound like a strange concept. Why would someone who is self-employed need a trade union? It’s a fair question. After all, there is no employer to negotiate with over pay or terms and conditions, no question of unfair dismissal or discrimination by a manager.

But being your own boss doesn’t mean that there are no issues at work that a union can help you with. In fact, the insecurities faced by the self-employed and freelancers mean that being part of a union that can offer support is a potential game-changer.

How unions can help

Whether it is independent, impartial advice on issues as diverse as discrimination or tax, or negotiating deals on insurance and other financial products, being in Prospect can help resolve many of the infuriating issues that can turn a dream of self-employment into a nightmare of stress and paperwork.

And for freelancers who can be exploited by temporary employers, Prospect can make sure you are treated properly at work, just like a regular employee would be.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the insecurity of self-employment to many across the UK. The government were slow to protect the incomes of the self-employed, and when help did come there were thousands who fell through the cracks because of how they worked.

We have fought hard for our members through this crisis, and thanks to our work hundreds of freelancers have been furloughed and many others have received support. But we know too many have still missed out and are facing an incredibly tough situation.

A new deal

After the crisis we can’t go back to the way things were, with an economy that leaves millions of self-employed workers horribly exposed when a crisis hits.

Prospect will be making the case for a new deal for freelancers and the self-employed, with a stronger safety net, better rights, and a louder voice in society and in government.

If you want to be part of that campaign, and gain the benefits of being part of a diverse community of self-employed workers and freelancers, as well as having the knowledge you will have someone on your side who will support you when you might need it most, then find out more about joining Prospect and discover why we are the fastest growing trade union in the UK.

Tom Railton is public affairs officer for Prospect

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