Fixing the gig economy isn’t the only way to make work fairer for all

Sure, let’s fix the gig economy; but let’s look at the bigger picture too. Designing quality jobs to make them more flexible is the real win-win, says Emma Stewart MBE, Joint CEO of Timewise.

gig working

It’s fair to say that opinion is divided on the gig economy. The parliamentary work and pensions committee has gone on the record to criticise companies in the gig economy for forcing people into self-employment, and rebuffed their claims to be providing flexibility for workers. And in the recent election campaign, both the Labour and Conservative manifestos pledged to take action on self-employment and workers’ rights. Meanwhile, Uber claims that the majority of their drivers “want to remain their own boss, as that’s the reason why they signed up to us in the first place.”

Gig work isn’t usually an active career choice

But a new report highlighted in HR Magazine has suggested that workers in the gig economy are actually desperate for work and would prefer a different form of employment. And unsurprisingly, here at Timewise, we believe that creating truly flexible jobs for permanent employees holds the key to putting this right.

The report, Crowd Work in Europe, by the University of Hertfordshire, the Foundation for European Progressive Studies, and UNI Europa, defined crowd work as paid work organised through an online platform. It found that 93% of those doing crowd work at least weekly are searching for another position, compared with just 39% of those who do not do this kind of work.

What’s more, as one of the report’s co-authors, Professor Ursula Huws, explained, crowd workers are often scrabbling together an income from any jobs they can find, as opposed to pursuing an active career choice. “These people are often desperate for work – to the extent they will do tasks they know to be risky because they need that money,” she told the magazine.

Let’s focus our energy on making quality jobs more flexible

So, if the gig economy is a problem for its workers, what’s the solution? The Taylor review into modern employment practices is due to be published in June 2017 and is widely expected to recommend changes to the rights of workers. This is an important step, but at Timewise, we know that there’s more to it than that.

The growth of the gig economy suggests that flexibility is becoming increasingly important to workers – and our own research tells a similar story. So whilst we support any plans to give self-employed workers better rights, we also believe employers need to look at how jobs are designed, so their permanent employees can access flexibility too. And we provide consultancy and training which will help them do just that.

Organisations that have a proper flexible working strategy are more likely to hang on to their best people, develop their skills and keep them in house. They’re also likely to increase their employee diversity, narrow their gender pay gap, and cut their overheads – without cutting productivity.

So let’s not just settle for making poor flexible jobs, such as gig working, better. Let’s also grasp this huge opportunity to make the millions of existing quality jobs more flexible too. That’s the real win-win for business, for candidates and for the economy.

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