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Many companies use perks to woo employees into gig economy



Recent research indicates that workers are less impressed with the perks typical of tech giant companies than they used to be, writes Terry Prone

I’M THINKING of telling the staff that the bathrooms in our building are perks. Now, our bathrooms were all-gender before all-gender was cool, mainly because we have too few of them to allow for discrimination. First come, first served, is our philosophy and your gender is your business. I was thinking of promoting them as perks because a job applicant from another communications consultancy recently shared details about their toilets. It’s great, the things you find out when you probe, just a little, into why folks want out of their present job.

In this case, the job applicant indicated that the bathroom situation at their current place of employment was not satisfactory. Why, we asked, unashamedly inquisitive. The light had a timer, they explained. Sorry? If you were in there for more than 30 seconds, they elaborated, the light went off and because the bathrooms were all in the inside of the building without windows, this plunged you into total darkness. We all sat and thought about this in silence, working out the things you’d need to reach in a bathroom that might be problematic in darkness, not, we assumed, including portions of one’s own person.

“We would never do something like that,” someone on our side murmured, leaving the floating implication that our staff could spend hours in the loo if they wanted to and ignoring the fact that the relative shortage of facilities would speedily lead to door-knocking and politeness followed seamlessly by pleading and threats. It did strike me, though, that in the race for talent, unmonitored fully-lit loo time might be regarded as a corporate perk.

Recent research indicates that workers are less impressed with the perks typical of tech giant companies than they used to be. Those perks being pool tables in the lobby, cute chairs shaped like halved kiwi fruit hanging from the ceiling, yoga lessons, free snacks and showers. Not forgetting sleep pods, into which the wage slaves insert themselves for a few hours of inaction, after which they might need the free snacks and showers. The pool tables, or in some cases the ping-pong tables, seemed to be there to suggest that nobody works really hard in this particular company, and if you were dumb enough not to be able to get the contradiction between the sleep pods (“you can never go home”) and the table-tennis, then you would sign on. Although you might find that although the job was with what we might call the Podscum corporation, you were actually employed by some completely different company, thus making you less dangerous as a whistleblower when you tired of the pool table nonsense. Employment at one remove is a relatively new wheeze used by corporations which have no compunction about outsourcing the social responsibility issue as it refers to people who work for them. Were you to ever summon up the energy to whistleblow about your working conditions, it wouldn’t matter a toss, because, hey, you weren’t even a staff member of the corporation, so your complaints couldn’t be taken seriously at all. You could also be hired for shorter periods and with less security. You wouldn’t be getting any perks other than the ones in the lobby.

That’s the truth of it. Perks are used to woo people into the gig economy, but stop being meaningful as soon as the employee has donned the universal uniform of the tech wage slave: Backpack, fleece hoodie, trainers, and ear buds. Just how meaningless those perks are can be read in the body-language of the not-quite-employees who have adopted the march of the downtrodden: head down, shoulders rounded.

In the US, the most important perk an employer can offer is health insurance. That’s for two reasons. The first is that health insurance is off-the-scale expensive over there. The second is that the standards gap between private healthcare and public healthcare is catastrophic. In Ireland, public healthcare is good, outside of the waiting lists and A&E chaos, and health insurance is expensive, but not cripplingly so. It’s a great perk, nonetheless, because even the young and hopeful and the believers in Sláintecare know that when a melanoma appears, if they can buy quick intervention, that’s where private health insurance matters.

Whether it’s health insurance or something else, research indicates that close to six out of 10 people regard extra benefits as a major pull when considering a job offer, many of them stating that they would choose those shiny extras over a fatter pay package. So the German discounting supermarket chains find a page in most of their catalogues to plug their offers of free ongoing education for employees. One overseas company takes this a step further, providing a college scholarship programme, not for their employees, but for the children of those employees.

The problem about some perks is that they are subject to yeah-buttery. If a company offers the perk of gym membership, on the basis that it contributes to their health maintenance, what happens when someone goes:

“Yeah, but why don’t you pay for my golf-club membership for the same reason — look at all the walking I do from green to green?”

The other problem is that — although recent surveys showed that employees wanted precisely these kinds of benefits — a worry pain has to figure when companies start to offer onsite crèches or apartments handily located right smack bang beside the corporate plant. On the one hand, this latter could make a major contribution to solving the housing crisis in this country, and demonstrate realistic appreciation of the problems of their staff on the part of employees.

Many companies use perks to woo employees into gig economy

ON THE other hand, this type of benefit carries a faint but pronounced reek

of “the company store” of the 19th century, where, by ostensibly helping you out, the company ended up owning you, body and soul. This was not always that negative. People used to be proud to announce themselves as “Guinness families” because of the paternalistic benefits provided by that company in the first half of the 20th century. Of course, even there, a downside applied. Employees at a certain level got three free pints a day, which was cool and groovy if you were a pint drinker. Not so cool and groovy if you were a teetotaler. Many’s the Pioneer who gave into perk pressure and started downing those freebies every day.

Some perks, of course, don’t cost money at all. One of them is permission to bring your dog to work. It’s suggested that the presence of a dog, except for the canine-phobic, lowers everybody’s blood pressure and raises the general mood. Although when one Dublin company, last December, invited employees to bring their pet to work on just one day, the dog owned by a friend of mine distinguished itself by peeing at astonishing length on the Christmas tree in the lobby.

The Bring-Your-Dog policy at that particular company is reportedly under review as a result. Rough, rough…

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Coronavirus And The Gig Economy : Planet Money : NPR





Hey, everyone. We know that these are uncertain and stressful times, and we here at THE INDICATOR feel really fortunate that we’re still able to get up every morning and do the work of informing and explaining and just helping you make sense of it all. And one reason we’re able to do that is because of your contributions to public radio stations. So we are asking you, if you can, to please donate to your local NPR member station. And to find out how, head to Thank you.



GARCIA: Candy Roberts lives in Clayton, Del. And about a year ago, she started working for Instacart, the online grocery delivery company.

CANDY ROBERTS: I’m raising my autistic grandson, and I was struggling a little bit trying to find work that allowed me to be available when he needed me.


Candy heard about Instacart. She learned that she could be a shopper – take people’s orders, go to the store, get their groceries, drop them off. Best of all, she’d be an independent contractor, so she would not have set hours.

ROBERTS: And it allowed me to work the hours that I wanted to work, so I did. And it works – it’s been working great.

GARCIA: Candy is able to earn about a hundred dollars a day delivering groceries, and she gets the time she needs to be with her grandson.

ROBERTS: He’s pretty awesome. He’s the funniest kid ever. He has a lot of little crazy collections that he does. We collect M&M wrappers, and we collect cereal boxes. And he’s been doing that since he was about 4 (laughter).

VANEK SMITH: Candy liked being an Instacart shopper. She liked her customers. And then, says Candy, about three weeks ago, everything changed. And going to the supermarket started to feel a lot different.

ROBERTS: The atmosphere is – I’ve never felt anything like it. It’s scary, and it’s emotional. I said, you know, I think I kind of have PTSD from shopping.


GARCIA: And I’m Cardiff Garcia. There’s never been a time when gig workers were more visible or more vital to people than they are right now. Instacart, Seamless, Uber, Lyft – a lot of these services have become lifelines to people in cities that have been locked down because of coronavirus.

VANEK SMITH: But gig workers are also in an especially vulnerable position right now. Many feel forced to work even though they don’t feel safe. Today on the show, we talked to Candy about her experience and look at what this moment might mean for workers like her in the future.

Candy Roberts says being an Instacart shopper has gone from a joyful job to kind of a blood sport.

ROBERTS: People steal stuff out of your cart. You know, you might’ve grabbed the last milk. Well, don’t look away from your cart because they’re going – somebody’s going to take it out of your cart.

GARCIA: There’s also, like, a kind of constant Darwinian struggle going on for the rarest items on everybody’s list – hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and, of course, toilet paper.

ROBERTS: There is no toilet paper to be found. I just don’t – I don’t know what people are doing with it. Where is it going? I can’t figure out the toilet paper obsession right now.

GARCIA: The job, she says, used to be a joy, but now it’s just overwhelming.

ROBERTS: You know, Instacart even reached out to us and said, you know, this is the busiest time in their history.

VANEK SMITH: Are you making extra money with this extra business?

ROBERTS: Absolutely not. We’re working harder and making less.

VANEK SMITH: Candy says Instacart has typically paid a flat fee of $7 per order, and then she makes the rest in tips. But right now, she says, Instacart is paying a flat fee of around 3- or $4 per order. We reached out to Instacart many times to ask about this. They never responded. But we did confirm with other Instacart shoppers in other parts of the country that they’re also getting a lower flat fee from Instacart.

ROBERTS: I feel like they’re taking advantage of us. So they’re making loads of money. They’re not passing that on to any of the people who are making it for them.

GARCIA: Meanwhile, Candy says, the tips have gotten a little spotty. A lot of people are just worried about money right now. And on top of everything, duking it out at the supermarkets has started to feel really dangerous. It just means being around people all the time.

VANEK SMITH: Candy says Instacart hasn’t supplied her with a mask or gloves or hand sanitizer, so she’s had to improvise. She uses Listerine to disinfect her hands and this bleach solution she made up to wipe down boxes. But it doesn’t feel like enough. Candy says she’s terrified. After all, she is the sole provider for her grandson.

ROBERTS: I’m always worried that, you know, what happens if I get sick? We don’t really have a big support system – or what happens if I get sick and then he gets sick? And that’s really scary.

GARCIA: So Candy has to do this awful calculus. In order to limit her exposure, she is doing fewer orders than she used to. But that also means that she is earning less money, which comes with risks of its own for her and for her grandson.

ROBERTS: Today is the first day ever since I’ve been working at Instacart that I don’t have my rent payment because of the way things have been going. And that’s scary, thinking that I might not have a home for him.

VANEK SMITH: Here’s the thing. Workers like Candy might not actually have to work right now. The $2.2 trillion act that Congress just passed allows gig workers to file for unemployment benefits, which they usually can’t because they’re considered independent contractors.

GARCIA: That act included $600 per week for a lot of workers, on top of what they would normally get for unemployment. And that money would be a lifesaver for Candy. But actually getting that money is another issue.

Veena Dubal is a professor of employment law at the University of California, Hastings.

VEENA DUBAL: The last two weeks of figuring this out alongside gig workers has been really confusing, really frustrating and really scary.

VANEK SMITH: Like, you’re a lawyer, and you can’t figure it out.

DUBAL: That’s right. Yeah. I mean, it’s so confusing. I’ve been talking to unemployment insurance experts in the nonprofit world across the country, and everyone is really confused and scared.

VANEK SMITH: Here’s the problem. Most companies, like Walmart, Microsoft – they keep records of their workers – how much they make, how many hours they work, et cetera. So if they lay people off, the government has a record of how much that employee made. And that worker gets paid a portion of their old wage in unemployment benefits from the state.

GARCIA: But companies like Instacart and Lyft do not necessarily keep track of how many hours people work or even who their workers are. So states which are already overwhelmed with unemployment requests will have to sort out how much to pay the gig workers who apply for unemployment.

DUBAL: And that means that workers are going to get this money weeks after other workers. And it is going to be really hard for these already, you know, stretched-thin state departments to create a whole new system.

VANEK SMITH: In the face of all that uncertainty, Veena says a lot of gig workers have just opted to keep working. They cannot afford to risk not getting money for weeks or not getting money at all.

DUBAL: Everyone that I’m talking to that is in the gig economy who is still working desperately wants to stop working. No one rationally wants to put their life on the line. Everyone who is doing so right now is doing so out of economic desperation.

GARCIA: Still, Veena says, this is a powerful moment for gig workers. She says they have been on the margins of the workforce for years. They were typically dispersed and isolated, so they couldn’t really organize. And now they are suddenly finding a community, a voice and a lot of public support and visibility.

VANEK SMITH: Instacart workers went on strike last week, demanding higher pay and protective gear. Instacart says it will provide kits with masks and thermometers and hand sanitizer, as well as bonus payments for shoppers.

DUBAL: And so people are thinking about the health of these workers in a way that they’ve never had to think about before because the health of the gig workers is intertwined with the health of people who are using and benefiting from their labor. And all of a sudden, we also are completely reliant on them. And we have the sort of time and space to think about what they are experiencing on an everyday level and why it is that they’re continuing to work when so many people are not.

GARCIA: Veena thinks gig workers will start to organize more and more and that they’ll be successful at getting what they ask for because at the moment, the companies that employ them really, really need them.

VANEK SMITH: For right now, though, Candy Roberts is just doing what she can. She’s taking on as many hours with Instacart as she can stomach. She’s trying not to worry too much about money, and she’s trying to enjoy the extra time with her grandson.

ROBERTS: He’s right now practicing for his – what they call classroom karaoke so when he goes back to school, he can sing “Joy To The World” to the class.


THREE DOG NIGHT: (Singing) Singing joy to the world, all the boys…

VANEK SMITH: This episode of THE INDICATOR was produced by Brittany Cronin and Darius Rafieyan. THE INDICATOR’s edited by Paddy Hirsch and is a production of NPR.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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For artists and gig workers, expanded emergency benefit access is ‘encouraging’ — but worries about the post-COVID-19 future remain




Toronto drummer Nick Fraser has watched COVID-19 eviscerate the income and opportunity generated by his music career — including a scheduled tour in Italy. But for weeks, it seemed unclear whether artists, musicians and gig workers in similar circumstances would qualify for the federal government’s new $2,000 job-loss benefit.

Now, that question has been answered — at least in part.

Earlier this week, the federal government announced plans to widen access to the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, originally intended for those whose incomes were entirely wiped out by COVID-19. Soon, it will open to those with drastically reduced earnings — expected to mean those working 10 hours or less a week, or earning less than $500 a month.

“I think it’s encouraging,” Fraser said. “That’s how the gig economy works. People have multiple streams of income and they’re going to keep the ones they are able to keep.”

While the news is a glimmer of hope for some, Montreal-based musician and photographer Tess Roby says she’s still concerned the federal government’s response won’t be sufficient.

On top of her now-paused music and photography career, Roby works 20 hours a week at a part-time job; as a result, she may not meet CERB’s new eligibility criteria — criteria she worries will still shut out too many people.

“It doesn’t surprise me that the government would leave those people out — people who are in precarious work, people who live paycheque to paycheque, people who are multidisciplinary,” she said.

“It’s really difficult to think that so many people would be forfeiting work just for a chance to qualify.”

For gig workers and artists, earnings are usually low and unpredictable in the best of times; a recent Statistics Canada study found the average annual income for those in the gig economy is $4,300.

“Gig-economy workers are part of a precarious job market — their employment is not a guarantee of a livable income. In fact, during this time, many are getting less income than before,” said Jan Simpson, president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

The union has called on the government to expand emergency support to both gig workers and those who do not have social insurance numbers, including international students and those who are in the process of getting their permanent residency.

“These workers already lack basic protections and almost never have access to benefits like paid sick leave. Their lack of protection forces them to continue working, even when they are unwell,” Simpson said.

Many workers now deemed essential, notes Fraser, are also among the lowest paid.

“The system is broken if you’ve got the most essential workers getting paid the least, getting paid so little that income support is going to be more money than they make in the first place,” he said.

For Roby, that reality speaks to the need for something more robust than a means-tested emergency benefit.

“I think we are closer than ever before to moving in the direction of a universal basic income,” she said. “I think that should be seriously considered by our government.”

That measure, she adds, would help support people like musicians whose income will be impacted long after the immediate COVID-19 crisis subsides. Spain recently announced it would roll out a universal basic income to deal with the pandemic’s fallout.

“There’s no foreseeable sight of when any of this will resume,” Roby said. “I think live performance is going to change after this. Even when people are allowed to go back to venues to concerts, are they going to want to go back?”

Roby says she’s grateful to have received numerous messages from fans thanking her for her music, offering them a brief escape from global angst.

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“But I also can’t help but think, if you only knew how difficult this was,” she said. “This has exposed all of the cracks in our system.”

That, says Fraser, should — at some point — prompt some collective reflection.

“I hope at the end of all this there’s a little bit of a rethink about the value of people’s work,” he said.

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Can self-employed and gig workers get unemployment benefits?




Hairdressers, gig drivers, landscapers, and other independent contractors normally don’t qualify for unemployment benefits.

But these aren’t normal times. And if you are out of work you should soon be getting help.

Laura Grant, like so many people on furlough right now, is desperately trying to reach the state unemployment hotline.

Laura manages a six-person hair salon that has been forced to close. She and her stylists have had no luck getting unemployment benefits as they all work for themselves.

“I was able to fill it out and it said in the employer section, I put self-employed, so it obviously denied me.”

President Trump and state leaders have announced that the upcoming stimulus will provide benefits for self-employed and gig workers.

Stylists here are praying it happens.

“It’s been two weeks and I haven’t had any income.”

Like independent contractors everywhere, Laura and her stylists are hoping they get unemployment benefits in the next few weeks. But until that happens, they say there are bills to pay and no money coming in!

“We all have car payments. There are a couple of single moms who work here. So we are all up in the air and we don’t know what to do.”

Kentucky’s workforce cabinet says independent workers should file and the state will fix things “on the back end of their application.”

Laura hopes so, living by this message in her lobby that says, “Think positive and positive things will happen.”

If you are an independent contractor, go to the state unemployment site and file for benefits.

You should receive them and that way you don’t waste your money.


Unemployment Benefits in Texas

If you are working and requesting unemployment benefits, you must report your earnings and the hours you worked for each week you request benefit payments. There are no exceptions to what Texas Workforce Commissions considers “work.”

Work is any type of service for pay, including but not limited to:

  • Full-time or part-time work
  • Paid orientation and training
  • Temporary and seasonal work
  • Commissions and tips
  • Contract labor and side jobs, including but not limited to day labor, mowing lawns, yard work and cleaning houses
  • Financial compensation from bartering
  • U.S. military service, National Guard, or reservist duties
  • Self-employment

Self-Employment or Odd Jobs

Examples of paid self-employment that you must report include, but are not limited to:

  • Working for only a few hours per week
  • Having your own registered business
  • Helping a friend with his or her business
  • Mowing lawns, doing yard work, or cleaning houses
  • Taking photographs for special occasions
  • Styling hair for friends, relatives, or clients
  • Catering parties

Self-employed farmers must also report subsidy/price support payments, crop insurance payments and farm disaster relief (not Disaster Unemployment Assistance) payments.

For more information, tap here.

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