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Gig economy may hold some hope for jobs in age of COVID-19

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Hundreds of thousands of Australians are out of work as a result of COVID-19, but a QUT expert says some may find new jobs through digital platforms, particularly in areas like food delivery, writing, law, accountancy, home maintenance, IT or graphic design.

More than 100 such platforms are now operating in Australia, with workers matched to clients via apps or websites who are then paid through the platform.

“Doors have slammed shut for many employees throughout Australia since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and there may be alternative work opportunities within the gig economy,” said Professor Paula McDonald from QUT’s Business School.

“Digital platform, or ‘gig’ workers may be eligible for JobKeeper payments but as self-employed workers they must demonstrate a 30 percent reduction in turnover from the previous 12 months. Establishing this may be difficult for some.

“There have also been concerns raised about on-demand drivers having to choose between earning an income delivering food and other goods and being exposed to Covid-19, especially as they face an absence of sick pay entitlements if they acquire the virus or are directed to self-isolate.

“However, the gig economy could provide opportunities for some workers laid off from ‘regular jobs’ to source alternative income.”

Professor McDonald and QUT colleagues Dr Penny Williams and Associate Professor Robyn Mayes, along with researchers from UTS and the University of Adelaide, last year conducted the first ever national Digital Platform Work in Australia survey and have now published their preliminary findings.

“We had more than 14,000 useable responses from adult internet users from throughout Australia and the top five platforms are Airtasker, Uber, Freelancer, Uber Eats and Deliveroo,” Professor McDonald said.

“Overall, 13.1% of survey respondents have, at some time, undertaken digital platform work, similar to recent findings in Europe but larger than any previous estimates in Australia.

“It’s a rapidly growing sector and while for most it is not full-time, a substantial minority treat the income generated from this work as important or even essential.

“There are two main types of digital platform work. The first is performed in-person at a specified location, such as driving, food delivery, caring or home maintenance. The second is computer or internet-based.”

Professor McDonald said the COVID-19 restrictions requiring people to mostly stay at home, along with the closure of restaurants, cafes, hotels and other hospitality venues, has probably driven up demand for some kinds of in-person digital platform work.

“Transport and food delivery were the most common types of work performed by platform workers in our survey. This work is consistent with social distancing rules because the driver usually works solo and has limited contact with restaurant staff and often no contact with customers,” she said.

“Even as some restrictions relax, demand in this space may well increase as a result of people’s reluctance to encounter others on public transport. At the same time, work for on-demand drivers may well decrease due to fewer people having nights out and meeting with others.

“Uber has just announced a cut of 3,000 staff and the closer of 45 offices, including its Singapore base. This comes after the company already shed 3,700 jobs earlier in May.

“Computer or internet-based platform work may also provide options for some who have lost jobs, especially in professional services such as law, accountancy, engineering and architecture, or fields like writing and translation, creative and multimedia work and software development.

“People with technological, creative or professional skills may find work on digital platforms and work entirely from home for clients anywhere in the world. They may even be able to develop new skills and enjoy a level of flexibility not possible in regular employment.

“Constraining such opportunities, however, is the overall contraction of the global economy. The chances of substituting employment income with money earned performing internet-based platform work are also dependent on particular skills sets and having appropriate home-based technology.

“Gig workers should also assess whether income they earn is sufficient for the time and effort they put in. Most platforms don’t pay workers to create and maintain online profiles, respond to jobs that don’t eventuate, negotiate with prospective clients, and travel between paid jobs or tasks.

“For these reasons, many platform workers don’t know how much they actually earn per hour.

“And if more retrenched workers sign onto platforms without an equal increase in client demand, it may create further competition for work and a ‘race to the bottom’ in pay and conditions.”

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3 Firms Guide Chinese Gig-Worker Platform’s $33M US IPO

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Law360 (July 10, 2020, 4:25 PM EDT) — Chinese gig-worker platform Quhuo started trading Friday after raising $33 million in an upsized initial public offering steered by Wilson Sonsini, Maples and Calder and Commerce & Finance Law Offices.

Beijing-based Quhuo Ltd. said Friday it priced 3.3 million American depositary shares at $10 apiece, a larger offering than its earlier plan to sell 2.7 million American depositary shares. The ADSs also began trading on the Nasdaq Global Market on Friday, where they opened at $15.31 and are trading under the symbol QH. Each ADS represents one share of Class A common stock.

Quhuo is headquartered in Beijing and registered in…

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UK – Union to proceed with judicial review that could extend health and safety rights to gig workers

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13 July 2020

The UK’s High Court has granted permission to the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain to proceed with a judicial review that could extend health and safety rights to hundreds of thousands of gig economy workers.

The union is arguing that the government failed in its obligation to transpose health and safety directives from EU law into UK law. Whereas UK health and safety law only protects employees, EU law extends these protections, to all those classified as workers.

If successful, the judicial review would force the government to extend health and safety protections to all ‘workers’, including hundreds of thousands in the gig economy, such as Uber drivers and parcel couriers.

This would include a right to personal protective equipment and a right to bring legal action against an employer if a worker suffers a detriment or is dismissed after refusing to work under unsafe conditions.

IWGB President Henry Chango Lopez said,“Gig economy workers have been among those with the highest death rates from Covid-19. This isn’t by accident, but the result of a failure by this and past governments to properly implement health and safety legislation.

“For far too long, the government has turned a blind-eye to the abuses of gig economy employers, allowing them to make up the rules as they go along, while ignoring the safety of their staff,” Lopez continued. “With this case we will start to reclaim some of the basic rights that are being routinely denied to these workers.”

Fiona Coombe, SIA director of legal and regulatory research provided some clarification. “There is a distinction here between workers who are classified as self-employed contractors working for one of the gig economy platforms and agency workers. Agency workers have had health and safety protection through many regulations including the Working Time Regulations and Conduct Regulations and in practice are often given the same level of protection as employees of the hirer. That does not seem to be the case for the workers who are the specific focus of this case.”

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 COVID-19 Pandemic Erases Years of Financial Gains in Months, Disproportionately Affecting People of Color, Women, Gig Workers and the Young

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NEWARK, N.J.–()–The first months of the COVID-19 pandemic largely wiped out three years of financial gains in the United States, with more than half of Americans reporting their financial health has been compromised. People of color, women, younger generations and small business owners were among those disproportionately affected, Prudential’s (NYSE:PRU) 2020 Financial Wellness Census™ finds.

“This crisis exposed deep fissures in our public health and economic systems, pervasive racial and social inequity, and how weak our collective immunity is to financial disruption,” said John Kalamarides, president of Prudential Group Insurance. “Tackling these systemic vulnerabilities will require bold thinking and public/private partnerships to help our society overcome financial fragility and prosper through an inclusive recovery.”

Fielded in May 2020, the study shows nearly one-in-five respondents said their household income was cut by half or more in the months following the pandemic’s outbreak, with 17% losing employer contributions to a retirement plan, 14% losing health insurance and 10% losing group life insurance benefits, eliminating critical safety nets.

The negative impact is disproportionately high for certain segments of the population. For example, while 48% of all of those surveyed said they were worried about their financial future, 56% of Black Americans and 56% of Latino Americans said they were worried about their financial futures. And while 17% of all Americans reported being unemployed, that figure was considerably higher for those with household income under $30,000 (34%) versus those with household income of over $100,000 (8%).

Where 17% of respondents said their household income was cut by half or more, that number rose to 31% for gig workers, 25% for LGBTQ Americans and 24% for those employed in the retail industry.

The results are a startling contrast to findings just months earlier, in December 2019, showing Americans were financially on the upswing. More than half (52%) ranked themselves financially healthy by objective measures, up from 46% in Prudential’s first Financial Wellness Census conducted in October 2017.

Additionally, the economic fallout from the pandemic shrunk the portion of respondents who qualified as financially confident to 36% from 40% in 2019, while swelling the number of those who are discouraged to 33% from 31% in 2019. Regardless of household income, the survey revealed nearly half of Americans (48%) are worried about their financial future, up from 38% just a few months earlier.

Asked what changes they would like to see as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, census respondents cited more affordable health care, more flexible work options and better government programs to support small businesses. Those with lower incomes were most focused on changes that strengthen their finances and social safety nets, citing affordable health care and universal health care coverage, better government support of small businesses and the unemployed, a higher minimum wage and more protections for workers.

The data also show that Americans most often look to the federal government for financial assistance in times of crisis (32%), followed by family and friends (28%), then state and local governments (27% and 17%, respectively).

Employers also play a critical role when it comes to financial health. The workplace benefits Americans most value include retirement savings opportunities, paid time off, and comprehensive health care and prescription drug coverage, according to the census.

Read the full report for more information.

About Prudential Financial

Prudential Financial, Inc. (NYSE:PRU), a financial wellness leader and premier active global investment manager with more than $1 trillion in assets under management as of March 31, 2020, has operations in the United States, Asia, Europe, and Latin America. Prudential’s diverse and talented employees help to make lives better by creating financial opportunity for more people. Prudential’s iconic Rock symbol has stood for strength, stability, expertise and innovation for more than a century. For more information, please visit news.prudential.com.

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