Cleaner banned and fined £25 for being ill

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When Polly Mackenzie heard her cleaner was ill and unable to work her normal day, she was hoping to reschedule through the Handy site that supplied her.

But that was not how the system worked.

The story took a further turn the next day:

Ms Mackenzie, from south London , was sent what she described to the BBC as “a grovelling email – as if they’d killed my firstborn”, then found her account had been credited with £5 to compensate for the inconvenience.

She said that meant Handy had “profited £20 from her illness, about twice as much as they’d make if she turned up”.

The cleaner has since been made available to Ms Mackenzie once more, but the incident has ignited a strident debate on social media about the use of app-based services and the gig economy.

In the gig economy, instead of a regular wage, workers get paid for each job, such as a food delivery or a car journey. One of the best-known examples is driving for Uber.

Proponents of the gig economy claim that people can benefit from flexible hours, with control over how much time they can work as they juggle other commitments. Those against say its simply another form of employment – without rights or in-work benefits.

Work but no pay

It is not unheard of for gig economy workers to be charged for days they do not work.

Earlier this year, the Guardian reported that Parcelforce couriers who make deliveries for Marks & Spencer, John Lewis and Hamleys could be charged up to £250 a day if they were off sick and could not find someone to cover their shift.

The debate also came to the boil last week when a tribunal ruled that Uber should give drivers the same rights as workers, rather than treat them as self-employed.

In an inversion of this, Ms Mackenzie says she is effectively an employer who is not allowed the control hat goes with that.

One of the issues that has come to light is that @Handy will not allow Ms Mackenzie to see the terms and conditions under which they engage cleaners’ services.

That issue is no longer material in this case, however: the cleaner at the centre of the wrangle is no longer willing to work for Ms Mackenzie.

New York-based Handy has been contacted by the BBC for a response.

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