Article: The unseen plight of the gig economy

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The unseen plight of the gig economy

The recent cases of Uber, Lyft, Taskrabbit, DoorDash and so many other app-based businesses are facing a backlash as the gig workers are demanding more benefits and equal rights as the full-time workers.
The unseen plight of the gig economy

As the world economy moves towards remote access and shared workplaces, the so-called Gig Economy workers or side hustlers comprise the majority of the workforce. Be it small startups or the Big Giants, gig workers are everywhere. It is a typical enhancement of a make or buy decision. Organizations are opting for temporary professionals over training their own employees for a specific skill set. 

On the other hand, Gig workers were considered as people who could not land permanent jobs and had to pick available jobs to run their kitchens, which is a rather negative scenario as compared to the reality. This definition is changing rapidly as the economy predicts a 60 percent workforce share of these workers globally, with highly specialized skills. The other part of the workforce perceives these gig workers as people who have very low commitments and enjoy an easy-going life, working at their own pace and pleasure. There are other categories of gig workers that exist in the job market as well. 

The Free Agents are workers who choose to be freelancers and the gigs they perform earn their bread and butter. The casual earners take it as a pursuit of passion and supplement their permanent earnings with it. The financially strapped gig workers which comprise of 30 percent of the gig workforce, are the ones who do not willfully accept this form of employment and would rather have a permanent job. Apart from the financially strapped, the Free Agents do not have an easy path as the general perceptions illustrate. 

'Ubering' around the gig economy

The recent cases of Uber, Lyft, Taskrabbit, DoorDash and so many other app-based businesses are facing a backlash as the gig workers are demanding more benefits and equal rights as the full-time workers. The demands have risen out of the unprecedented struggles faced due to long working hours, no job security, low pay packages topped with less pay security, lack of availability of gigs and mainstream jobs, stereotypes by the lesser open societies on their nature of work, inhuman treatment by the employers and absolutely no protection or rights. Governments are now concentrating on regulating the gig economy by holding companies accountable. 

Many Swiggy, Uber Eats and Zomato deli-very boys admitted to taking up the food delivery jobs only because they needed to support themselves till they could find proper employment. The daily workhours for these delivery boys are atrocious and their targets are extremely difficult

The AB5 bill is a classic example, which has now become a law in California. It has become a landmark initiative in protecting gig workers. Companies like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash have been using the tag of independent or contract workers to dodge responsibilities with regards to employee benefits and labor rights. The law aims at providing minimum wages and paid time off for these workers and easing their hardships to some extent. The Governor of California Gavin Newsom signed the bill on September 18th 2019, despite significant opposition from Uber and many other gig companies. 

Survival of the fastest delivery

According to a survey by PayPal, 50 percent of the freelance workforce is engaged in the Information Technology Domain in India. It is a common trend for fresh graduates moving out of smaller towns and cities and taking up gig works to make ends meet till they land a permanent job. Many Swiggy, Uber Eats and Zomato delivery boys admitted to taking up the food delivery jobs only because they needed to support themselves till they could find proper employment. The daily workhours for these delivery boys are atrocious and their targets are extremely difficult. The 30 minutes delivery promise makes them drive rashly on the roads or lose out on their much-required commissions which were based on the number of deliveries completed.

With so many gigs available, the IMF statistics still show an appalling 30 percent of unemployed youth in this country and this is purely because of the temporary nature of jobs created by gig companies and even established organizations. India accounts for a very high number for outsourced BPO support facilities, which employ multitudes of workers on contract basis. MNCs in the category of E- commerce giants and IT companies are the major employers of these contract BPO workers. Amazon, Flipkart, IBM, Infosys, TCS, Wipro are the few big ones in the game. Apps like Dunzo, Swiggy, Uber Eats, UrbanClap and Zomato have become a one stop solution for gig workers and business owners alike to find work and workers on the go. Needless to say, the struggles of the Indian gig workers are no better but rather worse off as compared to UK and US.

Challenges that never end 

The abuse of the gig workers is further aggravated by the venture capitalists who would rather pour their money into organizations which are devoid of the employee liability and do not have the overhead expenses of managing a full-time workforce making it difficult for the regular employers to compete. Workers with specific high-end skills such as web-designing, consulting, financial planning and advisory, coding, software specialists, etc. also have their own wars to fight. With the market getting extremely competitive and competency building getting more expensive, there is always a fear of becoming obsolete or being overtaken by someone with better skills and cheaper price. 

So many of these gig workers live on the edge with deadlines or the summon of an app, that they barely have any family time, social life or even a healthy life. The gig economy being at a very nascent stage is often less or misunderstood by the financial sector. It is very difficult for gig workers to get financial assistance such as loans and mortgages, as they have no stable income to show nor any business to their names, just a skill which is being used every now and then by some employer. Getting health insurances is yet another pain with no insurance companies extending benefits for gig workers due to the nature of their jobs. In short, gig workers and their families have almost no recognition in the society even for bare minimum amenities which are reserved for the “working class”. 

Finding a sense of identity has also become difficult as gig workers are not able to associate themselves to the typical brands nor can they call themselves entrepreneurs. They are merely specialists with skills at call and the society at large has not evolved enough to accept them. The frequently asked question “what do you do for a living?” remains to be one of the toughest to answer. With multiple employers and skills and even more gigs, it is very difficult for traditionalists to understand that an artist who is a musician and owns a café has a stable life and often stereotype them to be unfocused, careless and in need for “finding themselves and settling down”.

The struggles of selling themselves is even more unreal. Gig workers are basically solopreneurs. They have to market themselves, handle the clients, manage the finances for running the show, manage the working capital involved without a regular income and all of this while still trying to stay abreast in the oversupplied talent market.

The IMF statistics show an appalling 30 percent of unemployed youth in this country and this is purely because of the temporary nature of jobs created by gig companies and even established organizations

The inevitable future

On the brighter side, Gig Workers have provided a new dimension to how organizations operate today. Talent committed to passionate work is available on demand with customized solutions. It’s not too late for organizations to re-engineer their talent management practices to incorporate the gig workers. With the advent of new technology every hour gig workers very are contemporary with the latest skills and provide much better services at much better costs. Building workplaces that would meet their requirements of time and space flexibility along with basic benefits such as medical coverage packages, rewards for outstanding services, minimum pay protection and a few more tangible and time bound benefits could do wonders in harnessing the gig talent.

Transforming workplaces will be unavoidable with the rapid changes in employment perceptions. The new era of Millennials and Generation Z is right at the horizon, awaiting its dawn. Organizations need to balance the diversity of their workforces to build a cohesive and sustainable environment that will suit the Baby Boomers to Gen Z crowd and as well as, the Gig Workers. 

 

Topics: #GuestArticle, #GigToBig, #GigEconomy, Life @ Work

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