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A working-class family finds fresh hell in the gig economy in Sorry We Missed You




December 23, 2019 05:45:19

In late capitalism, at least according to Ken Loach, the gig economy is like Kool-Aid for people struggling in an increasingly cutthroat labour market.

In the case of unemployed father of two Ricky (Kris Hitchen), the individualist rhetoric of ‘working for yourself’ is certainly a potent lure after years of hard grafting in manual jobs with meagre rewards.

He finds work as a courier in Loach’s Sorry We Missed You, a title inspired by the calling cards left when packages can’t be delivered.

The film begins in a job interview where he is trying to impress his future boss — depot manager and self-proclaimed “patron saint of nasty bastards” Maloney. He describes spending years working with blokes who were either lazier or less skilled than he is, and welcomes the opportunity to work at his own, presumably superior pace.

Little does he know.

No sooner does Maloney take him on, than Ricky has the sobering realisation that, although the company takes a large cut of his profits, he is individually liable for any mishaps and has to fork out for start-up costs — including a new van he can barely afford.

You feel like yelling at the screen “Get out!”.

But this being late-career Loach, he’s soon completely trapped — beholden to a carrot on a stick that never gets any closer.

The 83-year-old British director’s last film, the 2014 Cannes Palm d’Or winner I, Daniel Blake, took aim at an overburdened welfare state clogged in red tape and administered by staff spouting the managerial rhetoric of denial and buck-passing.

Sorry We Missed You would make for a fascinating double feature. It’s a horrific postcard from a private sector where spin and double speak are also rife.

To call it Orwellian would be kind.

Early on, Maloney goes out of his way to avoid using any language that suggests the company might be responsible for its workers — “You don’t get hired here”, he says, “you come on board. We call it on-boarding. You don’t work for us. You work with us.”

It’s one of several scenes in the film that have a darkly comic dimension, that all rely on an impeccable performance from semi-professional actor and real-life policeman Ross Brewster.

As the depot boss, his muscular frame and shaven head cut an intimidating figure. But it’s not his physical stature that emanates authority, so much as the power of his argument. At least initially.

Loach’s longtime screenwriter Paul Laverty has written a slippery, memorable antagonist in Maloney, who reacts to Ricky’s increasingly desperate trajectory in reasonable, even empathetic tones.

He gets a monologue that resembles a rousing vision statement, too, in which he uses evocative, vaguely magical language to explain why his depot is more successful than any other in the city, painting a picture of the place as a citadel of discipline and infallibility.

The reality, of course, is pretty straightforward exploitation.

While racing around the city on his delivery run, Ricky carries a plastic bottle for toilet breaks and uses a scanner dubbed “the gun” that constantly monitors his progress. It’s a Taylorist dystopia of never-ending surveillance.

At home in his cramped terrace house, meanwhile, there are other pressures. Son Seb (Rhys Stone) is skipping school and doing graffiti, completely uninspired by any conventional future open to him.

Ricky responds to the boy’s nihilism by parroting the same optimistic jargon he’s heard at work, but Seb sees through it.

Ricky’s wife Abbie (Debbie Honeywood) is doing her best to shoulder the parenting, but she’s also facing stress in her work life as a home carer grappling with shrinking budgets and tighter schedules.

Her industrial isolation is highlighted in a scene where a regular patient tells her about her past as a trade unionist, showing photos of miners’ strikes that offer a glimpse of working-class solidarity.

For her and Ricky, such experiences of collective support are almost non-existent.

The family unit is perhaps the only collective buffer from the pressures of the outside world, which makes Seb’s rebellion so poignant.

But even a sunny day where Ricky takes his young daughter out in the van ends on a disheartening note, with a reprimand for disobeying company regulations.

It’s a gloomy picture, but the film’s criticism of economic injustice is not the only take away. Laverty’s script contains a touch of humanist moralism, too. Ricky is not a bad man, but he’s deluded, and the source of that delusion is his sense of superiority.

While his wife suffers at her work through no fault of her own, Ricky might have avoided some of his woes had he been less conceited and less ambitious.

In a different film, he might have been painted as a heroic optimist defying the odds, but Loach’s is a cautionary tale of overreach.

The powerful climax — which arrives with roller-coaster momentum — underlines Ricky’s demise with visceral physicality. It’s not a spoiler to say his body bleeds and his nerve endings scream pain, but for the system, his humanity is irrelevant. He is a cog in the machine.

Sorry We Missed You is in cinemas from December 26.






First posted

December 23, 2019 05:25:49

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New Yorkers Turn to “Gig” Economy to Make Ends Meet




Many New Yorkers who have lost jobs due to the pandemic have turned to the gig economy to make ends meet.

Stasha Gumienny is one of them. She works for DoorDash. She’s a “DoorDasher” on top of her full-time job as a school administrator. She’s been dashing since September after she lost her second job as a restaurant hostess last year.

“I was really feeling the hit of not having that second job,” said Gumienny. “I had visited the food pantry a couple of times.”

What You Need To Know

  • Stasha Gumienny is a single mom who works at a school during the day and door dashes in the evenings and on weekends to make ends meet
  • Gumienny lost her second job as a restaurant hostess in 2020, when restaurants shut down at the height of the pandemic
  • According to Lyft, 20 percent of their drivers reported driving more during the pandemic after getting laid off or having their hours cut due to COVID-19

As a single mom, losing that second income was tough.

“I was in a low. I was really getting nervous,” said Gumienny. “I had a couple financial meltdowns. I kept seeing the DoorDash availability on Indeed, and I said, ‘You know what, what do I got to lose?'”

She’s not alone.

According to DoorDash, nearly two million people became door dashers from March to September of 2020.

According to ride-share app Lyft, 20 percent of their drivers said that they drove more during the pandemic because they were laid off or had their hours cut due to COVID-19.

With DoorDash’s flexible hours, Gumienny usually dashes on weeknights and weekends. She leaves her first job at 3 p.m. and starts door dashing by 4 p.m., all so she can make it home to her daughter in time for dinner.

“I do sometimes feel guilty because I’m giving up those Saturdays and Sundays during prime play hours to be with my daughter, but I also know that I’m modeling for her what it takes, and what I’m doing,” said Gumienny. “And she’s learned the quality of a dollar.”

Each delivery can bring in about $6 to $10, and those deliveries add up.

“That might not seem worth it to someone, but if you do this three times a night, or a week, and maybe one weekend, you’re going to see almost $200,” said Gumienny.

After just two hours on the road, she’s done for the night and heads home to make dinner for her 11-year-old daughter, Hannah.

“This is why I wouldn’t want to DoorDash past 6 o’clock. Hannah’s doing homework, and we try to get a good night in,” said Gumienny, as she prepared dinner for the night.

She does this multiple times a week, a grueling work day all to make life a little easier for her and her daughter.

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‘Lapsis’ and the Rise of Gig-Economy Sci-Fi




Ray Tincelli, a good-humored, pot-bellied, middle-aged guy with a “’70s mobster” vibe and money troubles, is looking for a new gig. His day job as a courier for a sketchy lost baggage company isn’t cutting it. Played with hangdog charm by Dean Imperial—he looks like Jeremy Piven gone to seed—Tincelli is a brusque Queens dude who could be imported from any number of prestigious cable dramas. For these reasons and more, he’s the offbeat, magnetic center of Lapsis, the funny and surprisingly humane new science fiction indie from first-time feature director Noah Hutton.

The grubby world Ray inhabits looks like ours, but the details are slightly skewed. Ray’s younger half-brother Jamie (Babe Howard), a once-hearty hiker, is now sidelined with a mysterious chronic fatigue syndrome called Omnia. This syndrome is widespread enough that there’s an entire scammy cottage industry around treating it, and Ray is hoping to get his brother into a treatment center. After his courier job is kaput, he seeks advice from a slippery neighborhood character named Felix (James McDaniel), who hooks Ray up with a “cabling medallion” as long as Ray promises to share a cut of his profits. A twist on a taxi medallion, the cabling medallion is a black-market ticket into the world of “cabling,” a bustling new line of contract work where “cablers” spend their days stringing yards upon yards of fiber-optic cables through wooded areas to attach to large metal boxes plopped in forests. It’s all in service of quantum computing, a new information superstructure that has taken over the globe. According to Felix, they’re paid handsomely for their troubles. And so Ray goes forth, into the woods, huffing and puffing his way toward the enigmatic boxes and potential financial freedom.

Lapsis, which is currently available on VOD, is a film in the tradition of lo-fi sci-fi, a genre of independent, dialog-dense science fiction without high-budget spectacle. Think Robot & Frank, Primer, or Being John Malkovich. Or think Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You, another satire about the gig economy set in a slightly alternate, slightly futuristic reality. Both are political parables, using genre to prod the callous excesses of capitalism. But while Sorry to Bother You is balls-to-the-wall bonkers, Lapsis is a gentler outing, unspooling its story through long hikes in the woods.

The mechanics of cabling make little sense, but the film isn’t concerned with explaining the logic of its quantum computing empire. The setup is as arcane to the average person as bitcoin mining, because the details don’t matter. What matters is that it’s the newest iteration of grunt work in a global economy reliant on low-paying, no-benefits contractors for human fuel. During his first week on the job, Ray doesn’t learn a thing about what plugging the wires into the boxes actually achieves; what he does learn is that the cabling underclass is justifiably and mightily pissed off—and that the cabling medallion he used once belonged to a notorious former cabler known as “Lapsis Beeftech.”

He learns even more once he strikes up a friendship with Anna (Madeline Wise), a seasoned cabler attempting to organize her coworkers. The cabling company uses tiny doglike robots as pacers for its human workers; if a robot passes them on the trail, it can steal their route and take their money. They’re the bane of the cablers, who scheme to derail the little machines, and the brainchild of the original Lapsis Beeftech. Anna helps Ray trap one of the pacers, and they become confidants. And despite his best efforts to keep his head down and continue earning, Ray is quickly embroiled in a larger plot to find the original Lapsis and instigate a worker revolt.

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Nigerian fintech startup ImaliPay raises pre-seed funding to service gig workers’ financial needs




Nigerian startup ImaliPay, which leverages artificial intelligence (AI) and big data to offer tailored financial products that promote the inclusion of gig economy platforms and workers across Africa, has raised a round of pre-seed funding to scale more quickly.

Co-founded early last year by Tatenda Furusa and Sanmi Akinmusire, ImaliPay offers both new and existing gig workers or freelancers the ability to seamlessly save their income and receive in-kind loans through a buy now, pay later model tied to their trade.

As gig workers save money or repay loans on time, they are able to build a credit history that will in turn unlock more formal financial services in the future.

ImaliPay has secured an undisclosed amount of pre-seed funding in order to scale its customer base, with the round led by Australian venture capital firm TEN13, which has also invested in the likes of Chipper Cash and Bookipi. Other investors included in the raise are FINCA Ventures, Optimiser Foundation, Mercy Corps Ventures, Changecom, and angels from Nigeria, Kenya, Norway, and the United Kingdom (UK). 

The primary aim of the investment is to expand and accelerate its growth and footprint in Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, with ImaliPay aiming to become the one-stop-shop for gig workers’ financial needs. 

“It’s a great opportunity for investors to participate in the fintech revolution and a fast-growing segment. Our vision at ImaliPay is to advance financial health and inclusion for gig workers who struggle to manage and access flexible financial services that are often only available to traditional SMEs”, said Furusa.

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