Employment in the gig economy

Friday 14th July — Blueprint discusses the ‘Taylor Review’ of Modern Employment and the gig economy

Earlier this week, on Tuesday 11th July 2017, the long awaited ‘Taylor Review’ into UK modern employment practices was released. The report, whose committee was chaired by Matthew Taylor of the RSA, looks at all areas of work; but has a specific focus on the ‘gig economy’.

Image courtesy of HardWareZone

For unskilled gig workers; i.e. the deliveroo cyclists, Uber drivers and the taskrabbit IKEA DIY heroes; the current gig economy amounts to little more than exploitation. Whilst these apps and ‘platforms’ may have been invented to focus on efficiency and convenience for the end user, they were not designed with the employee in mind. There is no social contract present between the company and the employee, and 1 party is always trying to ‘get the best deal’ i.e. take more from the other. This kind of relationship is based on seeing people as resources, as efficiencies to be maximised; rather than as human beings to be nurtured and developed.

For skilled gig workers; i.e. the consultants, coaches, chefs, advisers and writers; the current gig economy is very favourable. Gig work for these people comes about because they are respected and trusted and their time is treated as valuable. They are seen as irreplaceable individuals, rather than as a number on a screen. When the gig economy works this way, with respect and reciprocity at its heart, then relationships can flourish. Organisations receive work they value, and workers can choose flexible arrangements to suit their needs.

One of the stand out recommendations from the report was the need to introduce a new status for gig economy workers. Under existing laws, any worker must either be classified as a full-time employee: entitled to sick leave, holiday pay, a pension scheme and a national minimum wage, or as a self-employed independent contractor: entitled to none of the above, but with the flexibility to choose their hours and days of work, and to control their own pay contracts. The report recommends that a new classification is created: a dependent contractor. This ‘middle-ground’ employment status would recognise that some gig economy workers, as they primarily work for a single company, should be entitled to employment rights from that organisation.

Blueprint notes that change is needed, and that maybe this is a step in the right direction: however, we also think that we need to take a longer term view — one which tackles the systemic issues at the heart of our shifting work environment.

Many have highlighted that as we work for longer and AI becomes more prevalent, reskilling and retraining will become a much more common part of people’s working lives. We can no longer expect to have 40 year careers and then retire at 65 — but instead, we can expect to face a much more dynamic economy: one which will require flexibility in how we apply our skills, time, creativity and efforts to issues and enterprise.

We believe that the gig economy is here to stay, and that much of our economy will move towards this ‘gig-based’ format. If we are to embrace this new way of working, and also manage to create jobs which are, as Matthew Taylor puts it, “fair and decent with scope for fulfilment and development” then it will not be enough to just re-write our existing employment law. What is needed is a shift in thinking and a change in behaviour. Without spending time in building relationships and developing mutual trust and respect, people will continue to be seen as resources to exploit, rather than as human beings to nurture.