You may have encountered the term gig economy at times when apps like Uber, Foodora, or Tiptapp have been discussed. The word gig originates from the music business; musicians rarely have stable employments and instead have to take one job at a time, called a gig. The term gig economy is used to describe a variety of different companies whose business model is based on hiring people on a task-to-task basis, either with no real employment or at least very insecure ones. They’re often advertised as “flexible” jobs in comparison to proper employment.
Sometimes the gig economy is misleadingly called “sharing economy”, as if Uber drivers are sharing their cars, or AirBnB’s are sharing their homes. But “sharing economy” has nothing to do with sharing. Delivering someone elses food on your own bike in the service of a company is not “sharing” – that’s called labour, working, and must be seen as such. Gig economy companies don’t share anything.
It’s not unusual to hear that the gig economy is the future of modern jobs, but what is it exactly that we’re expected to do? The flexibility they claim is so good, in reality, means job insecurity. The arguments that back the concept of the gig economy is built on myths and errors. The purpose of Gigwatch is to examine the premises of the gig economy, and who actually profits off of it.
Here are some common denominators for such apps. Do you recognize some, or all, of these points? Then you’re probably working within the gig economy.
- You are assigned work through an app – There is no proper workplace, and you rarely have direct contact with the company itself or other workers. Instead the company connects you directly with a client (private person or another company) that orders a service from you, like delivering food.
- You have no guaranteed hours – Since wages are distributed on a per-task basis there is no guarantee on how many hours you will get to work in a given week or month. There’s rarely any hourly pay.
- You are not employed by the company you work for – The companies often count all the people working for them as self-employed. This way they can get around certain labour laws or agreements (like certain taxes, or hourly wages) that other employers need to follow. This means that there are no sick days, nor any holiday allowance. In some cases the workers are employed, but never directly by the company in question. Instead they use subcontracted companies to do this, which means they bear no direct responsibility.
- You have to provide your own equipment – A lot of companies in the gig economy require you to already possess your own equipment (so they don’t have to provide you with it). To work as an Uber driver you need to own your own car, and if you work for Foodora you need to own a bike, or other vehicle. You are solely responsible for any maintenance or reparation of these.
- The work is advertised as a sidejob – It’s typical for gig economy apps to want to seem like sidejobs for people that would like some extra cash in their pocket, but the truth is that a lot of people have to work these jobs to survive. Rather than extra work for students, the people doing these jobs are often very young people, or people that recently immigrated since they often have a harder time finding other employment.
- The Flexibility Myth – A big part of the advertisement of the gig economy is centered around flexibility and efficiency. If you work within the gig economy you better get ready to spend a lot of your time in “standby mode” while you wait for the chance to snatch a job. In practice this standby mode could be seen as a form of unpaid worktime.
- Gigifying and shadow employments – Companies within the gig economy have no duty to provide compensation for even an hour of labour time for their workers, because technically the companies aren’t employers. The work is often one gig at a time, with no guarantee of future work. The workers are expected to compete with each other in different ways to get ahold of the shifts, either by being the first to reply or by standing out somehow (like offering to get paid less).
This list is, of course, not comprehensive, and the term gig economy can be made a lot wider than this. There is no clear line for what is and isn’t gig work. The gig economy doesn’t just describe currently existing companies, forms of employments, or labour models, it also describes a larger tendency in society where more and more sectors and jobs are gigified.
It can be hard (and often irrelevant) to divice exactly what jobs count as gig jobs. In the borderlands between the gig economy and full-time employments we find jobs like hourly-paid supply teachers and those working for staffing companies. Regardless if you’re working as a supply teacher or delivering food you have experienced having to be available at all times, to sit around and wait for a shift that you might not even get. In practice these jobs have more things common between them than not.
We have coined a term that we think circles a lot of the problems – we call it shadow employment. We define it as follows: “to clearly be working for a company but not being counted as employed“.
The term shadow employment can be seen from two perspectives. In part it’s about the job not being a proper employment despite the worker having to follow orders and doing tasks for a company. At the same time it is a shadow employment in turn as there is very little insight in the working conditions, wages, and how many people actualy work within these areas. There is no information available for the public, and the medias reports of wages and working conditions vary wildly. The lack of publicity within industries shines even brighter here, being gone completely.
For us people that are recruited into the gig economy, expected to work with no right to a schedule, an income, or protection when we get sick or hurt, its said that it’s only a temporary job. Just some sidework when you’re young to fill out your CV or portfolio. But there is nothing that points towards these being temporary jobs. According to us, these jobs cement such insecurity rather than raising people out of it.
The gig economy is here to stay, and it’s widening out to more and more industries. It’s a development that encapsulates the entire workforce. On one hand it means that new gig companies will be taking over markets but it also means that companies that used to offer traditional employments will change to take on similar business practices and employment models. If you’re not already working within the gig economy, it may just be a matter of time until you are. That is, unless we do something now.
In countries like the U.S.A, Great Britain, and Germany, people are questioning the hype of the gig economy. There are demands being set on guaranteed work hours, more security, and to have workers being acknowledged as employees. In Sweden, however, it’s quiet. We want to change this.