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What Exactly is the Gig Economy

If someone drops the terms ‘gig economy’ or ‘sharing economy’ into the conversation, chances are you’ll picture a group of cyclists, weaving recklessly in and out of city traffic with a backpack full of takeaway food. Maybe you think back to the Prius that pulled up outside the bar the other night and rescued you from the battle of the black cabs?

Many are familiar with platforms like Amazon, Deliveroo, Uber, as well as freelancing services like Fiverr. And while there are a plethora of businesses successfully operating in the gig economy, questions over what it means to both work and employ in the gig economy are being disputed. As a result, we’ve unfortunately seen cases of exploitation and poor employment conditions come to light.

Instead of blaming all of those in the gig economy, we must first answer some questions. Here’s a breakdown of what the gig economy is, who it’s there for, how we can help it prosper and what workers can do in helping it move forward.

What actually is gig economy work and who is it there for?

The Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, define gig economy work as: 

“…the exchange of labour for money between individuals or companies via digital platforms that actively facilitate matching between providers and customers, on a short-term and payment by task basis.”

To gain perspective, 4.4% of the UK population that have worked in the gig economy in the last 12 months – representing approximately 2.8 million people. It’s a large figure for a fast-growing industry. 

The key selling point of the gig economy is that it’s intended to provide both the employer and the worker with the benefits they want – i.e. cheaper labour costs and more flexibility and control. It’s a win-win, right?

Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. Misunderstandings and the misrepresentation of what it means to be in the gig economy are at risk of damaging the industry as a whole.

Does this mean all gig economy work is wrong?

No, the gig economy has grown in popularity for a reason – it’s able to provide both the employer and worker with the benefits they desire. However, that doesn’t mean it’s working for everyone.

While many companies, such as GIG, provide employees with things like the minimum wage and holiday pay, some companies are taking advantage of what it means to be “self-employed” due to the immense cost savings and stiffening competition.

In cases such as Deliveroo, CitySprint, Uber and DPD, gig economy workers are often working full time hours, given strict company guidelines or being told to meet certain quotas and standards to remain employed. In these cases, workers are being seen as a commodity, rather than human beings. 

It’s an important facet of the industry that needs to be stopped before it causes irreversible damage. 

Surely it’s a choice, isn’t the whole point that you sacrifice full rights for flexibility?

Although this is true in a lot cases, it certainly isn’t an across-the-board answer. In fact, according to a recent study by the RSA, one in four gig economy workers took up work because they were unable to find an alternative form of income.

This shows that while many perceive gig economy work to be a choice, it doesn’t always hold true. The fact is, the gig economy is growing and engraining itself into many industries – we can’t afford to leave loopholes or gaps in its legislation if we want it to work for all of us. 

Okay, so what can I do about it?

The Matthew Taylor report, ‘The Review Of Modern Day Working Practices’, highlighted the need for change but also proposes that more needs to be done to help improve the gig economy. 

The clear message is that the gig economy is not as simple or as straightforward as it once was; the mass expansion of the industry has caused confusion and issues around things like minimum wage, sick pay, holiday pay, HR disputes and even taxation (PAYE). 

If we push for change and ensure companies are guided more effectively when hiring gig economy workers, while also reassessing current regulations and the cultural perception of the industry as a whole, then the gig economy can work for EVERYONE.

In light of this, we created a petition to help push for government reform to instil better rights, conditions and the minimum wage for ALL gig economy workers. Sign our petition below to ensure government reform to YOUR gig economy. Help us make GIG work, work.


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