Young workers are in crisis. With 78% of 18-21 year olds working for less than the government recommended ‘living wage’, it’s evident that our labour is grossly undervalued. The message from corporations is clear, profit must be placed above people. So why aren’t we fighting back?
Corporations are intent on destroying the world of work as we know it, and young people are their first target. The flagship of this new world of work? The gig economy.
What is the Gig Economy
The ‘gig gconomy’ is an industrial sector which is made up of companies that operate via online platforms to find people to complete small tasks, think Deliveroo and Uber. It’s labour, on demand, and it’s all online and accessible at the touch of a button. As the largest provider of zero hours contracts, the gig economy markets itself on it’s apparent accessibility for those looking for flexible working hours. However it is this casualisation that makes the gig economy such a precarious form of employment for most of its workforce.
The gig economy markets itself on it’s accessibility, not just to consumers but to prospective employees as well. It’s an industry built upon the labour of mainly unskilled workers, which it then employs on temporary short term contracts. On paper it’s perfect for a busy student looking to make quick and easy money, but the reality is usually very different. For me, it is the newest form of exploitative capitalism, however it has been packaged to appear as a ‘lightweight’ version of full time employment from which you can opt in and opt out from with very little effort.
In a report released by the RSA last year, it was discovered that gig workers are much more likely to be aged 16 - 30 (34%) and as many as 44% of gig economy workers have university degrees. Over half a million (roughly 578,000) young people in Britain have tried some form of gig work. According to the Office for National Statistics, 900,000 people in the UK are employed on zero hours contracts and make up 2.9% of the national workforce. This figure has risen by over 20% since 2015.
What’s the problem with the gig economy?
The gig economy isn’t like a regular workplace, it’s not 9-5 hours and you don’t get any of the protections that come with a normal job. Gig economy employers class their workforce as self employed, which in terms of flexibility sounds great, but what it means in terms of your rights at work is not so great. The confusion surrounding the actual employment status of those who work in the gig economy is where the opportunity for exploitation lies. Currently, due to the fact that gig economy workers are classed as ‘self employed’ they are not entitled to statutory protections such as protection against unfair dismissal, redundancy or sick and holiday pay. This is by no means an accident, gig economy corporations have intentionally abused the ‘self employed’ status of their employees in order to save money on ‘expensive’ outputs like paying a living wage or providing proper working hours. One of the main perks of being self employed is that you’re supposed to be your own boss, operating on your own terms. Which is great, but gig economy workers don’t get those freedoms, they’re working for a company that comes with rules and regulations. They get no say in the management of the workplace. The pretence that these companies do not dictate their workforce like an employee is ridiculous, these workers are controlled by a boss, it just happens to be that this boss is faceless and operates almost entirely online.
Gig economy corporations are swindling their workforce out of their basic working rights with the farce of ’self employment. It’s blatant exploitation, yet the government turns a blind eye.
In a response the recent Taylor review the government has promised to ensure gig economy workers are given sick pay and holiday pay from the moment they start work, but just how achievable is this?
Ministers yesterday declared they will be launching a consultation to review the legal status of ‘self employed’ workers, they will also be increasing employment tribunal fines to £20,000. But just how easy is it to take a gig economy company to court as a worker?
The RSA reports that since July 2013, fees were introduced for those wanting to make a claim to the Employment Tribunal System. Meaning that for minimum wage gig economy workers, it would cost up to £1,200 if they wanted to issue a claim against their employer. For young people earning minimum wage with an average of two three hour shifts a day, this kind of money is a figure in the sky. These fees present a huge barrier to workers wishing to challenge gig economy employers on their employment status and rights. At present, it is the responsibility of the workers themselves to seek clarification on the classification of their employment status. Meaning that most gig economy companies will never end up seeing that tribunal fine of £20,000, because it’s too expensive to even take them to court in the first place.
When Deliveroo was taken to court by activists in the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) they actually won the right not to give their workforce the minimum wage or holiday pay. If even the courts won’t hold exploitative companies like this to justice, who will?
“These companies know they are unlawfully depriving workers of rights they’re entitled to and the reason they get away with it is because there’s no government enforcement.” - Jason Moyer-Lee, general secretary of the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain.
The gig economy prides itself on it’s accessibility and flexibility for young people, but it’s true purpose is to devalue the labour of it’s workers. The Taylor Review is a step in the right direction, but for many young workers, these reviews are just too little too late. The gig economy is nothing short of mass exploitation and it must be stopped.