For & Against

For & Against: The Gig Economy

28 May 2018


IMAGE by David Zeleznikow-Johnston

FOR by Andie Moore

The gig economy has become the new piñata of regulators and unionists alike. I am not going to pretend it works for everyone or for every profession. However, it is indisputable that gig work suits some people, particularly those least likely to get work. Here is how.

It is not easy to get work. For each new job opening, there is a new cover letter to draft, another 30-minute application, another anxiety-inducing interview, with no guarantee of employment. Finding a job requires time and energy which not everyone has. If you are an honours student smashing out a thesis, you hardly have time to fire off dozens of applications. If you are a stay-at-home parent supporting several children, the situation is similar.

To score even a retail job, employers ask for experience. There is the “permission paradox”—that more and more young people cannot get jobs, because they are inexperienced, and cannot get experience because they cannot get jobs.

Work access is not any easier if you find yourself in a minority group. Employment discrimination is still commonplace in waged labour. Unconscious bias can often determine whether you get selected.

One of the major benefits of the gig economy is instant income. Take Uber or Deliveroo, where you can sign up in minutes and find opportunities to make money, picking up someone from the airport or delivering them KFC. The unemployed and underemployed are not left penniless while they wait for businesses to get back to them.

While wage work provides income security, it requires regular time commitments some people cannot make. Students have exams, children have school holidays—one’s free time fluctuates throughout the year. Gig work allows people to structure their work around their life demands, choose when their work times and workloads.

Not everyone wants to have their projects and timetables dictated to them in a large firm. Consequently, we have seen the rise of freelance platforms for services and consultancy, where people work project-by-project by their own volition.

I agree gig work is not suitable for all work. Casualisation can certainly be harmful. But we cannot ignore the indisputable benefits the gig economy provides. We need a smorgasbord of different work options, and if gig work suits some people, why should we disallow it?

AGAINST by Luke Adams

We have been brainwashed into viewing casual or part- time work as a blessing, giving us the ability to willingly chose what, when, where, and how often we work. While the gig economy likes to present itself as a more flexible alternative to full-time employment—especially for young workers juggling work with study—the long-term financial and health (both physical and mental) effects of long-term precarious work are potentially catastrophic.

The gig economy has given rise to new social demands whereby financial constraints are being placed on individuals under the guise of personal freedom. Unlike their full-time counterparts, precarious workers are denied the rights of full-time employees—such as sick, family and compassionate leave—and are susceptible to more dangerous working conditions and job insecurity. All of which undermine the future prospects of precariously employed workers.

The pitfalls of the gig economy were epitomised in the recent Fair Work Commission case involving multinational ride-sharing company and champion of the gig economy Uber, in which the company won a case to classify their drivers as contractors, not employees. This ruling allows to Uber to avoid paying their drivers a minimum wage or any other compulsory worker entitlements typically paid by employers to employees.

The individualisation of late modernity has resulted in people coming to fully accept the responsibility of employment opportunities themselves, despite having little control over the job market in which they seek employment. Limited job opportunities, uncertainty and risks have become internalised as erroneous notions of meritocracy are used to justify growing levels of inequality and exploitation. We have been taught to admire the determination of individuals to push through extreme obstacles rather than question the regulatory inadequacies of our free-market system.

Nevertheless, one cannot deny the crucial role the gig economy has played in providing job opportunities to a generation of young (and old) people, overeducated and underemployed. However, this does not presuppose we accept the gig economy as it currently exists. In order to ensure and protect our economic future, we must first acknowledge the limitations and threats the gig economy, and its so-called “liberating” workplace arrangements pose to the short and long-term future of all workers.

One response to “For & Against: The Gig Economy”

  1. […] This article was published in the 2018 fourth edition of Farrago Magazine, the University of Melbourne Student Union’s magazine, as part of “For and Against”, a segment whereby two writers argue 400 words for or against a certain topic. […]

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