A new category of work - and worker - is emerging this year.
The first major milestone for the gig economy was during the credit crunch in 2008 when gig platforms rose to prominence and the term itself caught on. As unemployment surged, the gig economy offered an alternative means of income to those who needed it.
Now, over a decade later, task-based labour has evolved to become a primary source of income for more than 1 in 10 individuals across the world.
It's fair to say that 2020 looks like it will mark a turning point for the gig economy. Not only has COVID-19 caused mass redundancies, forcing people to find quicker and more flexible ways to make money, but it has changed our habits and approach to work.
According to a recent study by freelancing website Upwork, the number of those earning a living through contracting full-time has increased by 28% in the last year.
As unemployment numbers rise, and more people turn to flexible work, the gig economy needs to mature and evolve once again to ensure this isn’t the end of the road but rather the beginning of a new category of work.
For many, flexibility is the main draw to become a gig worker. Younger generations no longer live to work, and they want their working hours to reflect this. COVID-19 has simply acted as a catalyst for this trend.
A recent study from Fiverr has uncovered that 57% employees are benefitting from flexible working hours, and 55% have enjoyed an improved work-life balance during lockdown.
In the last six months, we’ve experienced having to juggle work with childcare, managing our health, and all the while trying to manage a work life balance—and for this, having the flexibility to work when suits us is crucial.
The gig economy model is leaps and bounds ahead of other labour models when it comes to flexibility. However, with regulation comes the threat of losing this freedom to work when and how we like.
Currently, workers are forced to choose between the traditional employment model—being permanent employees and reaping benefits such as healthcare and retirement, or gig workers where employment support has historically been less secure. Workers should not have to choose between freedom and labour support, they should be one in the same.
There needs to be a significant rebalance of power in the economy. Workers should be provided with rights on day one, new forms of collective voice, and greater control over the management of their time. This should reset the terms of working life and allow the gig economy to deliver on its fundamental promise, to provide true flexibility to workers.
Not only flexibility, but a lack of standardization and the resulting mismatch between worker skills and company expectations represents an ongoing weakness as the gig economy continues to grow.
In order for a new labour model to thrive in a modern world, we need to standardize regulations across regions and create a sustainable working model by giving it governmental and union backing—resulting in a system which can have longevity rather than being shoehorned into an already existing category.
While change is starting to happen in this space, we are yet to find a solution. Last year, California passed a landmark worker’s rights bill, setting a new precedent for the way gig workers are classified.
The ruling established that they should receive minimum wage and certain insurances. Likewise, in September, the Spanish courts classified food delivery drivers based in Barcelona as employees, not self-employed.
While we respect the judgement of the Spanish Supreme Court, simply classifying workers as ‘employees’ is not the answer. What is needed is a new regulatory framework which confers more social rights upon autonomous workers, but protects the flexible nature of work that’s fundamental to the on-demand economy.
In order to make positive change for gig workers, it’s crucial that governments and unions collaborate and create a model which satisfies the need for flexibility and additional benefits, globally.
We're proactively outreaching to labour unions and governing bodies in the regions we operate to start these conversations.
In Italy, our second biggest market, we've collaborated with Deliveroo, Just Eat, Uber Eats, Social Food, AssoDelivery and the General Labour Union (UGL) to give workers a voice when it comes to regulation. However, this is currently siloed activity and it needs to be an industry-wide movement to create real change for the better.
Discovering a new category of work
It appears that regulators are heading in the right direction; gig platforms are changing their approach to suit their employees. Recently, Just Eat's CEO announced that the platform was going to end the role of the gig workers and make all staff full-time employees.
While positive that these select workers are receiving benefits, it does not solve the industry-wide issue that workers cannot get benefits and flexibility. Rather than just reclassifying workers, we should all be striving to create a new category of work.
As platforms, we have a responsibility to help workers in the gig economy come together and have their voice heard, both through collective bargaining options and trade unions.
Many platforms see trade unions as the enemy but I believe they could be the solution, helping to negotiate better conditions through a collective voice but at the same time maintaining what is most important to workers: flexibility.
Traditional labour models and the gig economy structure need to be more aligned, to benefit each part of the supply chain—from workers, to businesses and the end consumer.
We need to find a legislative solution, alongside unions and governments, to allow workers and businesses the flexibility of the gig economy, while protecting labour rights and offering appropriate support.
Part of this solution lies in upskilling workers. With a skills gap being the biggest risk for organisations today, gig platforms should be striving to engage workers, train and better manage them for the long-term.
We've worked with some great organisations to start upskilling gig workers for the future, including Migra Code in Barcelona, which provides free training to migrants and refugees to learn how to code and become a professional junior web developer, and in Italy we host our Job Board, where our partners provide a list of open positions in their teams for which Glovers can apply.
This is another example of where gig players can invest in their workforce, to not only benefit from them but to help close the skills gap in their own companies. If businesses can come together and sponsor more of these initiatives it will ensure enough skilled workers can secure a long-term career.
If 2020 is to be a catalyst for change in the sector then we need to grasp this chance to adjust the labour model for the better. But change provides opportunity, we’re realistic that making the gig economy work for all parties will not happen overnight.
Our work with the Italian labour unions is a sign of what’s to come and we're excited to be championing change to support sustainable growth in the sector.
Sacha Michaud is co-founder of Glovo.
How 2020 Has Shaped The Gig Economy