There’s no doubt that the world of work has changed for many of us. Thanks to better connectivity, more people than ever are deciding to go at it alone and work from home. Mobile apps and websites have grown up; they can help us get everything from a taxi to a food delivery. It has given rise to what is generally known as the gig economy.
For some, this has given them the opportunity to work flexibly, earn a living and even head out on their own. Others criticise it for low wages and a lack of workers’ rights. Whichever side of the argument you stand on, there’s no doubt that our legislation has not entirely kept up with the changing employment landscape.
The Growth of the Gig Economy
Technology has driven the growth of the gig economy. Those neat smartphones and tablets we all seem to have nowadays have given us unprecedented access to the world around us. We can sit on a train and shop in a big store, watch videos and play games. We can also hire a cab by contacting someone close to us who is using the same app and is willing to drive us to our destination. If you want a meal delivered right to your door, one of the bright young gig economy workers will pick it up and bring it round.
It’s so popular that the number of self-employed people has risen to 15%, the highest it’s ever been. The attraction is quickly apparent for those who want to join the gig economy. To a large extent, you can choose to work as and when you want – ideal for people who have a second job, those who want to spend more time with their kids or those who just don’t want to work a normal 9 to 5. In many cases, you can set your own rate, build up your customers and earn a decent living.
For example, thousands of freelancers in marketing now work on platforms such as People Per Hour. Companies don’t have to spend large amounts of money on full-time staff, they can simply hire as and when they need work doing. If you have a bike you can join a delivery company. If you have a car you can set yourself up as a private taxi.
But it’s not all sweetness and light.
In recent times, successful companies such as Uber and Deliveroo have come under fire. Deliveroo managed to post some £130 million in revenues and Uber has been valued in the billions. The way ‘workers’ were being treated led to legal action last year. In 2016, Uber found itself at a tribunal as two drivers took the company to task over their lack of holiday pay and sickness benefits and the fact that numerous workers were not being paid the full minimum wage. For all intent and purpose, Uber considered its drivers as self-employed and so took no responsibility. They were there to provide a platform, not develop someone’s business.
In October, Uber lost the right to classify their drivers as self-employed. It was a big moment in the gig economy and one which could have major ramifications over the next year or so. The union Unite also joined in the chorus stating that it would now begin to investigate how many other people are affected by substandard working practices. Citizens Advice claimed that nearly half a million workers may be wrongly designated as self-employed in the current economy.
Do We Need to Review Workers’ Rights?
There are many who believe that it’s time for a review of workers’ rights, especially with the rise of the gig economy in recent years. How someone is defined as self-employed is important. If companies are doing it simply to get out of paying or administrating all the normal things that other companies do, then new legislation could be on the cards. It’s not just the UK that is facing this challenge. The gig economy has taken off in many parts of the world including mainland Europe and the USA and many are encountering problems.
The Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee has now begun a review into the future of work and what it means. This is not only covering areas such as the gig economy but large corporations such as Sports Direct which have been accused of mistreating their employees in recent times.
The Future of the Gig Economy
In some ways, the gig economy has moved too fast for legislatures to catch up. That has left some pretty important questions about workers’ rights unaddressed, including our right to a minimum wage, the question of whether someone is or isn’t self-employed, and access to sickness and holiday pay. In turn, changes that make companies like Uber responsible for this could have a severe impact on the economy if they’re business model is no longer viable.
For the government, the gig economy has played an integral part in lowering employment but the system has some inherent weaknesses that need to be addressed on both sides. There’s no doubt that many people find it useful and enjoy their new-found freedom to work whenever they want. Many do indeed earn a good living.
But that doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be protections in place and rules that the next gig economy startup needs to follow.