Fringe event – Why Unions Play a Crucial Role in Solving Issues Faced by the Self-Employed.

Hi everyone, I’m Helen Stephens, Chair of the Self-Employed Section.

I don’t think I’ll ever tire of saying that. Because even as recently as 6 months ago we didn’t have a self-employed section. And I think many of you might be surprised that self-employed workers have – and need – a union representing us..

I’ve been self-employed for 12 years, but I’d never bothered with unions before because I thought unions were just for workers.

Now, there’s a thing; I work. I earn a living, I generate my own income. But I never think of myself as a worker. And that is the first challenge. Recognising that people who work for themselves, are workers. We work.

And we work in different ways – we might be the sole director of a ltd company, or a freelancer. We might work through an agency, like Uber or Deliveroo. We might be a pop star or an actor or we might own the kebab shop on the high street. We might even employ other workers. However we earn a living… We work. We are workers.

Unions can challenge the narrative. By recognising that, the way people generate an income has changed. Self employment isn’t just business owners and employers. And it’s not just something we’re forced into because we’re unemployable.

Many of us choose to work for ourselves, maybe because it’s more flexible, or to pursue a creative talent.

Choosing to work for ourselves, shouldn’t mean that we forfeit the rights that workers are entitled to.

For instance: We lose more of our earnings to National Insurance than employees. And we have to pay our tax and national insurance in advance against money we might earn. How is that fair? But despite that, we don’t get any statutory support – no sick pay, no maternity pay, no parental leave.

For us, not working means not earning. We often have no choice but to work, when, under the same circumstances, employees would be given that time off. Paid.

Unions can help us by fighting for self employed workers to be treated more fairly, in line with employed workers.

In addition to that we have clients bartering with us to reduce our fees, and invoices being paid late.

Unions can help us retrieve late payments, and lobby for a minimum rate for freelancers.

There’s more than 4 million registered self-employed people in the UK. That’s 15% of the workforce. In fact, there are now more self-employed workers than public sector workers.

So, it’s more important than ever that we have union representation to challenge these issues. So thank you, Community, for leading the way.