A landmark review, commissioned by Theresa May, could result in gig economy workers receiving the same standard workplace rights as permanent employees. The review will address concerns that "rapidly changing business models and working practices continually stretch the limits of our employment rules". Mrs May commented, “Flexibility and innovation are a vital part of what makes our economy strong, but it is essential that these virtues are combined with the right support and protections for workers.”
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term Gig Economy can be defined as: ‘A labour market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs’ it also notes that ‘working in the gig economy means constantly being subjected to last-minute scheduling.’
Whether you agree with the definition or not, what is very clear is that the changes to how we all work are significant and there is a clear move away from permanent and fixed employment towards more temporary and flexible working. However, who really is driving this move; is it the employees who desire flexible employment to accommodate their lifestyle desires or is it being driven by employers who need to make cost savings to remain competitive?
The benefits of employers offering employees short-term, temporary or freelance work are very clear. The main one being that the move towards output based pay ensures they only need to employ and pay workers when needed, allowing for greater cost savings.
For employees, a gig economy allows for greater control over their working hours, ensuring time for family and personal activities. Workers are able to choose when they work, but also there is more freedom to choose who they work for and where they work. Digital advancements have made it possible to work or run a business from home or even the local café and obtaining work via digital work platforms such as
PeoplePerHour.com has offered greater flexibility. For those whose skills are in demand and who are at the top of their game, it is possible to earn more if you are self-employed than if you chose permanent employment.
Critics say that the gig economy exploits workers by treating them like full-time employees without extending them the same rights and current employment laws were certainly not written for the new gig economy.
Recent demonstrations by Uber and Deliveroo gig workers have made the headlines; and there have of course been many press articles of how workers, many of whom are desperate for work, are being made to accept this new age of work in a gig economy. Sports Direct and the NHS have been criticised for offering zero hour contracts with no benefits such as holiday and sick pay. Trade union GMB recently highlighted a case of workers at the ASOS warehouse who are expected to agree to a ‘Flexing clause’ which can result in them arriving at work and not starting for 2 hours, whilst not being paid, or having to add 2 hours onto their shifts₁. Although the company argues this allows them to manage quiet and peaks time, staff report the difficulties that it adds to childcare.
Labour MP Liam Byrne recently described ‘gig economy’ as a place where workers have to top up pay on zero hours contracts₂. He described it as a ‘sharing economy’ where people have to sell their spare time, assets or products through the likes of Airbnb, eBay, Etsy, TaskRabbit or Uber. Byrne commented that “It is a profoundly insecure place to be; all too often a protection-free, hand to mouth way to live. It is near to impossible to accumulate wealth and assets - like skills, a decent pension or a home to call your own - many survive by the good grace of their credit card. That is why it may be a recipe for a world that is quite simply too unequal, too unstable and too unsustainable.”
What is clear is that there are still many areas that need to be dealt with and clarified to ensure that the move towards a gig economy is fair and benefits both employees and employers.