My name is Helen Stephens, I’ve been self-employed for twelve years, and I’m honoured to be the Chair of Community’s new Self-Employed Committee.
People are often surprised that self-employed workers have – and need – a trade union representing us. I used to be one of those people, thinking that unions were only for more traditional styles of workers.
Here’s the thing: I work. I earn a living, I generate my own income. Yet I never used to think of myself as a worker.
That is the first challenge – recognising that people who work for themselves are workers. We work, and we deserve the protection that workers get.
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 singer 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. A job, after all, is a job.
Self-employed people 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?
Yet 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. No moreso was the unfairness of this evident than during the pandemic, when self-employed people had to lose money to self-isolate.
In our first Committee meeting, we discussed the many challenges facing self-employed people as we laid out our priorities for the future. This included mental health amongst self-employed people, online support resources, the continued impact of the pandemic, securing equal rights for self-employed workers amongst many others.
With this roadmap for the future, and the amount of esteemed talent we have around the table, I know we can make real progress for self-employed people in this country.
There are more than four million registered self-employed people in the UK. That’s nearly 15% of the workforce. There are now more self-employed workers than public sector workers.
It is more important than ever that self-employed people have union representation. I’m greatly looking forward to the work the Committee will be able to do, and I look forward to updating on our successes in the very near future.
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