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Gig economy workers should get maternity leave and unemployment benefits, says EU

The definition of what is an employee has changed with the growth of the gig economy (Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Gig workers should be entitled to maternity leave and unemployment benefits, the European Union has recommended.

Brussels believes the millions of self-employed workers across the bloc should have minimum levels of social security protection.

In a consultation document, the European Commission says: “The objective is to support people in non-standard forms of employment and self-employment who, due to their employment status, are not sufficiently covered by social security schemes and thus are exposed to higher economic uncertainty.”

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The gig economy has exploded in recent years. Newcomers such as Deliveroo and Uber regularly use self-employment and casual contracts instead of traditional, full-time contracts to workers.

Other more well established businesses such as parcel delivery firms, fast food giants and large tech companies also employ workers on a variety of casual, zero hours, self-employed or short-term contractor contracts.

Uber has been dogged by legal challenges from workers seeking better rights (Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

An estimated 5 million Britons work in this area and their rights as workers has been the subject of much debate.

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Unions claim companies are exploiting workers by paying them less, offering little guarantee of regular hours and failing to offer any form of financial cover should shifts be cancelled at short notice.

Bosses argue many gig workers enjoy the freedoms of being able to pick and choose when to work, and for how long.

Theresa May’s government commissioned the Taylor Review into the gig economy to try to assess how UK labour laws need to change to ensure workers were not being exploited.

Now the EC is pressing member states to provide a higher level of protection for their gig workers.

“As labour markets evolve, social protection systems too need reforms to make our social model fit for purpose, ensuring that no one is left behind,” said the commission.

“The ‘Access to social protection for workers and the self-employed’ initiative aims at supporting all self-employed and non-standard workers who, due to their contract type or labour market status, are not sufficiently protected by social protection schemes regarding unemployment, sickness, maternity or paternity, accidents at work and occupational diseases, disability and old-age.”

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Maternity leave is not offered in the UK for those on irregular work contracts, nor is insurance for self-employed people who are injured at work.  The EU wants mandatory coverage for all workers.

The level and breadth of social security cover for workers is a matter for individual governments and the commission cannot force national governments to act.