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Gig worker’s tale: Economy craters, pet groomer hopes to land on feet

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JD Harrison has been struggling to get by since COVID-19 has kept Georgians away from non-essential services like pet grooming. Thursday’s jobless report from the U.S. Department of Labor will provide a new count of out-of-work Georgians. Photo credit: Perfect Paws Mobile Grooming,

Monday was JD Harrison’s birthday, but he didn’t have much cause for celebration.

“I’m not getting by, realistically speaking,” he said. “I don’t want to embarrass myself, but I’m not getting by.”

At the start of the year, Harrison was making $8,000 to $12,000 a month between his Smyrna-based mobile dog grooming business, Perfect Paws, and driving for Uber and Lyft on the side.

Now, he said he’s making closer to $4,000, and his payments come from the Georgia Department of Labor.

Harrison is one of nearly 1.8 million Georgians to apply for unemployment since COVID-19 began shutting down businesses in March.

That grim toll increases every Thursday lately, when the U.S. Department of Labor releases Georgia’s weekly jobless reports, documenting the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Harrison said he started to notice business slowing down in late February, but calls came to a complete stop in March, around the same time pink slips began going out en masse across Georgia. During the week ending March 21, the number of Georgians filing new unemployment claims more than doubled.

“Business was so slow in March that eviction was inevitable,” Harrison said. “Between February and March, business was just insanely, ridiculously slow.”

That initial wave of layoffs was felt most intensely by workers in the restaurant, convention and hospitality industries, all of which are major components of Georgia’s economy. Now layoffs are spread much more widely, affecting office workers and manufacturers. On Tuesday, 300 employees of the Czarnowski marketing firm in Austell were added to the state’s Business Layoff/Closure Listing website. Atlanta’s Cox Automotive just announced it plans to furlough 12,500 workers this month.

Harrison applied for unemployment benefits in March, but at that time, the state Department of Labor was not set up to pay benefits to gig workers and independent contractors like him. That only became possible after the president signed the federal CARES Act in late March.

“The state of Georgia unemployment basically said, ‘OK, gig workers, we don’t have the system set up for you, we’re making it from scratch, so just accept holding on until April 22. You’ll be sent an email if you were denied unemployment for pandemic unemployment.’”

That’s what happened for Harrison – he said he got his email around April 22.

“After that, it took maybe two weeks for everything to get started to go through, but just think of having a 70% income drop from mid-February to April,” he said.

With scarcely any money coming in, Harrison lost his Atlanta apartment. He’s temporarily staying at an Airbnb until he can arrange something permanent.

Harrison said he’s not even trying to drive for Uber and Lyft right now because he does not want to risk getting sick. He’s still accepting clients for pet grooming, but finding few takers. Georgia’s close-contact businesses were among the first to reopen as part of Gov. Brian Kemp’s recovery plan, but not many Georgians are making a pets’ hair styling a high priority, Harrison said. 

“Grooming, I can pretty much control. I can control what clients I see, when, what kind of contact I have with them,” he said. “But if they don’t have the money to afford the luxuries us Americans love to say we have, when we can’t afford the luxuries, the people that provide the luxuries go out of business.”

Harrison is one of nearly 886,000 Georgians who filed continuing claims in the most recent reporting period, about 17% of the state’s March civilian labor force.

Continuing claims follow the first week of unemployment coverage, and they are a good measure of the state’s economic recovery, said Rajeev Dhawan, director of the Georgia State University Economic Forecasting Center.

“They tell you the extent of the labor market damage that is going on,” Dhawan said. “People on continuing claims means they’ve been unemployed and they’ve been getting the insurance, they haven’t found a job and they haven’t been recalled if they’ve been furloughed. That tells you the ongoing damage.”

Speaking at a press conference following the release of last week’s numbers, Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler predicted more bad news to come.

“I have a gut feeling when you see the numbers that are coming after this week, it’s going to be startling,” he said. “You’re going to probably see us eclipse the $3 billion mark, for the monies that we’ve sent out to help people here.”



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Gig economy saves Australia’s jobs market, but at what cost?

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Don’t be surprised if employers use the recession to employ more casuals and outsource more work.

(Image: Adobe)

There were three messages in the confusing jobs data for August that emerged yesterday from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The headline number was dramatically better than any economist, or even the Reserve Bank or Treasury, had predicted.

The first is, despite the claims from the media and the Morrison government that the Andrews government’s lockdown was some profound act of economic vandalism, Victoria’s jobless rate only moved up to 7.1% from 6.8%, with 42,000 jobs lost in that state last month. Hours fell by 4.8% in Victoria, compared with a 1.8% rise across the rest of Australia.

Now there may well be another big fall in Victoria in the September data as the numbers catch up. There will be a clue in the ABS’s next payroll jobs and wages data next week.



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Collaboration in the Gig Economy keynote

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September 17, 2020

Engagement managers already have a much more complex choice than in the past. It’s not just whether to hire a traditional employee to get a job done — the procurement supply chain is much larger. Today’s choices include using a staffing agency temp, engaging an independent contractor, calling in an SOW consultant or turning to an online work platform. And technology continues to bring changes — with Covid-19 speeding up the evolution.

“I would argue that times of crisis and times of change, like we are in today, will help propel the next stage of digital transformation,” SIA President Barry Asin said in a keynote address today kicking off the Collaboration in the Gig Economy virtual conference.

Asin cited technological change wrought by the last recession: In 2007, only 24% of large companies had a VMS in place; by 2010, the percentage had grown to 64%.

Fast forward to today, there was $1 billion in venture capital funding focused on the HR tech space in the second quarter alone.

Large companies that use staffing are turning to tech more and more. SIA data found 43% of large staffing buyers foresee an increase in usage of online staffing/talent pool in the next 10 years. Evolving concepts such as direct sourcing are already used by 30% of buyers, and 49% plan to put a direct-sourcing program in place within the next two years; much of it fueled by new tech offerings.

“I think that what we’re seeing — particularly for the traditional service providers in the talent supply chain — is a real digital transformation, and the current crisis is accelerating that digital transformation,” Asin said. “And it’s accelerating it for all the players involved at the different points of that supply chain.”

Already, 54 million Americans did gig work in 2019, approximately 34% of the workforce, according to SIA data. That amounts to $1.3 trillion in spend with the largest share going to independent contractors. SIA defines the gig economy as including all types of contingent work, encompassing

  • staffing agency temporary workers
  • SOW consultants
  • directly hired temporaries
  • online platform workers
  • independent contractors

The Collaboration in the Gig Economy Conference brings together all parts of the ecosystem to talk the latest trends and advances. Attendees include enterprise buyers, staffing suppliers, VMS/MSP companies, human cloud/on demand platforms and technology solutions providers.

“There is a wave and a transformational change that we are seeing in society,” Asin said. “Many of you are on the leading edge of that change.”

The virtual event continues through tomorrow.

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Australia – Victorian government launches consultation for feedback on its gig economy report

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17 September 2020

The Victorian government inviting Victorians to make submissions about all or some of the recommendations into its report on the gig economy.

The Victorian Government first commissioned its ‘Inquiry into the Victorian On-Demand Workforce’ in September 2018 in response to concerns about the wages and conditions of workers in the on-demand or ‘gig economy’.

The Inquiry, which was chaired by former Fair Work Ombudsman Natalie James, completed its investigations and submitted a report to Government. The report was published in July 2020.

The two-year investigation found that online platforms such as Uber and Deliveroo in Victoria have deliberately framed their arrangements with workers to avoid regulation while other businesses carry the cost of complying with workplace laws.

While some appreciated the flexibility on-demand work provides, James found the uncertain status of workers, who are not classified as employees and therefore do not qualify for workplace entitlements, protections and obligations, was at the heart of the system’s failures of workers.

The report made 20 recommendations for both the federal and state governments aimed at improving protections for on-demand workers.

The Victorian government stated on its site that all submissions will be treated in confidence to allow people to ‘frankly share their views’. The Victorian Government added that it will consider all feedback received before responding to the Inquiry’s Report.

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