IN October last year, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said the gig economy had been identified as a new source of economic growth and would be made part of the 12th Malaysia Plan.
The word “gig” used to be associated with musicians or performing artistes hired to play for specific events or short-term engagements. But this buzzword has trickled its way to almost any kind of employment, particularly on an ad hoc or temporary basis.
It concerns mainly freelancers, project-based workers, independent contractors as well as part-time hires. They are all part of a growing trend called the gig economy.
According to financial planning lecturer Associate Professor Dr Mohamad Fazli Sabri, people have been doing “gigs” for decades.
Mohamad Fazli, who is Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Faculty of Human Ecology deputy dean (Graduate Studies and Industry and Community Network) said: “Working part-time and freelancing have been around for ages. These jobs are becoming more pronounced due to the rise of digital platforms such as smartphones and the Internet.
“Technological advancements have paved the way for those who are interested in offering services through websites or mobile apps,” he said, adding that it is more popular among young people.
“There has been much debate on what comprises a gig economy and how it is different from freelancing. To put it simply, both terms are synonymous. It can also be referred to as a sharing or collaborative economy.
“While we are familiar with food delivery services, professionals are now starting to offer services like legal consultation, journalism and copywriting, among others, under what classifies as gig economy.”
Mohamad Fazli said the gig economy has benefited consumers as they are provided with an array of options and services to choose from.
For large organisations, it increases flexibility and efficiency while lowering the cost of doing business.
“Gig workers enjoy flexibility, lucrative pay and the freedom to choose the type of work. No wonder people are turning away from desk jobs to be a part of the gig economy,” he said.
When done right, working on gigs come with the perks of independence, peace of mind and good pay.
Mohamad Fazli said that in the United States, gig workers are expected to make up around 40 per cent of its workforce by this year.
“In Malaysia, food delivery services are flourishing. To date, there are 13,000 Foodpanda and 10,000 Grab Food riders in the Klang Valley.
“There are people who undertake side jobs on top of full-time jobs to bolster their income or even to maximise productivity,” he said.
Freelance-hiring specialist and gig economy platform Workana allows companies to engage talented and qualified freelancers for project-based job opportunities worldwide.
The Latin company, which started in 2012 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, recently set up its Southeast Asia headquarters in Kuala Lumpur.
According to Workana co-founder Tomas O’Farrell, over 100,000 freelancers signed up on the platform since April last year.
“Most talents are Malaysians, with the rest coming from across the region. We now have an excellent pool of talents comprising graphic designers, coders, writers, social media experts and marketing experts. This platform is a way of connecting companies with the talented people they are looking for, and reducing much of the friction of hiring remotely.
“Companies are also posting more jobs on our platform. Workana has over 30,000 job postings each month coming from all over the world.
“Our growth here in Malaysia is amazing. What makes it interesting is that Malaysian freelancers are now able to work for companies anywhere in the world and not limit their talent to geographical boundaries,” said O’Farrell.
He added that the workforce has changed in the last decade with Gen X and Gen Y being technology-savvy individuals who prefer to work independently.
“Experienced and professional freelancers cherish their freedom to work at their own pace and commit to projects with less supervision.
“Many companies, especially startup businesses, are looking for top talent. Employing a freelancer is an option that works for growth and return of investment (ROI).
“For example, if a company only needs a person for a limited period to complete a project, hiring a freelancer makes perfect sense.”
O’Farrell added that Workana provides opportunities for its freelancers to develop their skills by inviting them to conferences and think-tank sessions.
However, he said, professional skills enhancement needs to be done on an individual basis.
“Since developing a skill is a learning process and needs time and commitment, this means freelancers who are motivated will need to enrol for courses as they deem fit.
“For example, a freelance social media expert who is also proficient in Adobe Photoshop and can use social media tools effectively will be highly sought after on the platform.
“In the end, the gig economy becomes an altogether wider topic. Given the popularity of remote working, technology advancement (emails, live chats, video calls, collaboration software) and mushrooming co-working spaces, hiring freelancers is something which is destined to become a big part of the human resources industry.
“It is definitely here to stay,” O’Farrell concluded.
While the unemployed, students and fresh graduates struggling to land a first job may find the gig economy platform advantageous, there are rising concerns about worker welfare and a deteriorating safety net.
Mohamad Fazli said: “Many gig workers are from the younger generation. They may not be fully aware of the importance of having Employees Provident Fund (EPF) savings which provides retirement funds and benefits.
“They must be equipped with financial literacy or else they will be financially vulnerable.
“Besides EPF, full-time workers enjoy a certain amount of security in terms of consistent pay and health benefits.
“Those who are working gigs at the low-skill level have little room for career growth and development. There are no opportunities to climb up the ladder and secure promotions.
“Gig workers with higher education backgrounds must think of ways to move towards a professional level befitting their qualifications,’’ he added.
O’Farrell explained that freelancers face common challenges such as irregular workload and getting paid on time by different clients.
“To overcome this, we have a secure way of paying freelancers. We take advance payment from the companies and work as a mediator to ensure that payment is made to the freelancers once the jobs are completed.”
Caught between the new coronavirus and earning a living, the Mile High City’s independent workforce opens up about how Lyft, Amazon, Instacart, and others are supporting them (or not) during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In many ways, gig economy workers have become the unsung heroes of the COVID-19 crisis, often facing frontline exposure to the virus without the protections—including health and unemployment benefits—provided to traditional employees. Some companies have made efforts to support workers during this time, such as offering two weeks of sick pay for those diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. But even workers ordered to stay at home by local governments have experienced challenges getting the companies approve their claims.
Last week, which began with Instacart and Amazon employees and contractors striking for higher pay and better safety measures, several Denver gig workers talked with 5280 about their experiences during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
*Full names withheld at the request of the subjects.
People are desperate, but that’s good though. Customers, they feel so bad for us, so a lot of the time they’re tipping us like crazy high. I could work seven days a week nonstop and make a ton of money, but I don’t want to do that because there’s a chance that I could be infected at anytime. Amazon and Whole Foods, their workers are going on strike because they don’t feel safe in these conditions.
The thing is, the last time people tried to strike against Instacart, it backfired on us. We used to have this quality bonus—every time a customer gave you five stars you got an extra $3 on your order. So it was a big incentive for us to give really good service. But when that strike happened, they completely removed it. They said they were going to implement new ways for incentivizing us with promotions, but that didn’t happen until—honestly until the coronavirus started to come into effect. Promotions are like, if you work from noon to 5 p.m., every delivery you do in that span you get an extra $3 per delivery. They don’t care. It’s that simple. They know they can exploit us and there’s nothing we can do about it.
Sherrie Salazar: Lyft, Instacart, Postmates
I have always done the express rental program through Lyft and Hertz, but the rental is $250 a week, and I haven’t been making that the last two weeks. Ridership is down. Grocery shopping and food deliveries are through the roof, which is what’s saving us gig workers right now. I just started with Instacart and Postmates during the pandemic. Postmates isn’t a big tipper. Instacart is. My Postmates stuff has all been food delivery; I think maybe customers think they’re paying too much for their food so they’re not going to tip the driver. It’s like, we’re out here making sure you get it. And it’s still warm—or cold, or whatever it’s supposed to be.
I’m a high-risk [patient] if I were to get COVID-19. My heart functions at 74 percent. I have asthma. I have kidney disease. I’m pre-diabetic. I’m still doing my job. I’m being safe about it.
I’m pretty sure I had or still have COVID-19, and I self-isolated the moment I started having symptoms. My children have had it as well. I immediately contacted Lyft to let them know that I would be returning my rental and isolating. I then contacted them to see what relief would be available to me. They indicated that without a positive test result, I get no help. But no one can get tested in Colorado unless they are admitted to the hospital or meet the criteria for high risk. I contacted my primary care physician, and they indicated they would not issue a request for a test because I do not meet the criteria.
I’m convinced Lyft knows that not many people can get tested so they made that a requirement for helping drivers, thus limiting their need to help drivers. This is a crock of shit. I have been driving full-time for Lyft for a year with over 3,900 rides. I would estimate Lyft has made in excess of $40,000 from me. Still, they can’t help me even though I did the right thing and stopped driving.
Steve*: Amazon Flex
Amazon has said it’s hiring 100,000 workers both in warehouses and as flex drivers. I guess my perception is that they’re trying to bring in a lot of new drivers to increase the pool of people who are picking from available slots so Amazon can avoid surge pricing. My personal opinion is everything Amazon is going to do is going to be in its favor—which is going to decrease the amount it has to pay to do deliveries.
I can certainly understand why people are [striking]: It’s the low pay. It’s all these packages that are coming in from all different locations and you just don’t know if the virus is on any of them. How long can it survive on cardboard packages? With this coronavirus, I’m hoping it does compel some of these companies that are providing gig work to provide better [personal protective equipment]—not only for the drivers’ protection but also for the customers’ protection as well
Stephanie Ramsey: Uber, Lyft, Instacart
I’m not someone who has a savings account that I can fall back on. I’m grateful that I at least have something, because if I didn’t have [Instacart] I would be in a bad position. But yeah, I certainly feel forced into it. There’s not another option, really.
I don’t want this to wreck years of my life financially. I don’t want to get buried. I could stay at home and probably call all of the billing companies, and they would put it off for a little while but—yeah, I’d rather risk going out and getting sick than have to worry about my finances. Definitely.
At this point in time, my tips have been 50 percent and more of my overall earnings. If I was strictly relying on what Instacart is willing to pay me, this would not be worth it. It’s only worth it because there have been a lot of generous people.
Interviews have been edited for length and clarity.
I’m a single owner of an LLC – should I apply for the Paycheck Protection Program, unemployment benefits, or both? I haven’t been eligible for unemployment in the past, but I think I might be now – how does that work?
The Colorado Small Business Development Center is pleased to announce a webinar tomorrow, Friday April 10, aimed at independent contractors, online platform workers, contract firm workers, on-call workers and temporary workers.
Get your questions answered about who should apply for unemployment, how to do it, when to expect funds, and more during this webinar hosted by the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.
Q: What the heck are “gig workers”? I keep seeing that phrase turn up.
Answer: That is a phrase for freelance and contract workers who work short gigs, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, temporary workers especially ones hired for a specific task. According to Investopedia, a business news website, “the gig economy is based on flexible, temporary or freelance jobs, often involving connecting with clients or customers through an online platform.”