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Gig workers wait for PUA in Illinois

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Gig and freelance workers in Illinois are still awaiting unemployment assistance even as the federal program that expanded those benefits expires, and Congress debates whether to extend it.

The program that dished out an extra $600 a week to the jobless expired in Illinois on July 25. But delays at the state agency responsible for dispersing the payments mean there could be an untold number of people eligible for help who still aren’t getting it.

“Those dollars are available from the federal government,” said Bruce Meyer, an economist at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy who’s been studying the federal program. “It’s just a question of Illinois processing those claims and making it clear to workers, former workers, that they can get these benefits.”

While delays are not unique here, Meyer said Illinois stands out as a state that’s lagging in getting payment to people who normally wouldn’t qualify for unemployment benefits but do during the pandemic, such as Uber drivers, under the federal government’s approved Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA.

“The fact that Illinois has been slow in getting out [these] checks … means that a lot of people who are potentially eligible haven’t gotten these benefits that would help them pay things like their rent,” Meyer said.

Though Illinois recently started processing more PUA claims from gig workers — it processed nearly 143,000 claims the week of July 4 up from about 113,000 claims the prior week — the numbers are still well below some other Midwestern states.

Take Michigan, which has nearly 3 million fewer residents than Illinois. That state processed nearly 1 million PUA unemployment claims the week that Illinois processed just under 143,000. That same week Ohio, with a population close to Illinois’, processed around 412,000 claims. Indiana, which has half the population of Illinois, processed nearly 268,000.

Wisconsin, which has less than half the population of Illinois, processed around 54,000 claims the same week.

However, all of those numbers do fluctuate from week to week, the data show.

The delays for Illinois’ processing of claims could be due to a number of reasons. While the Illinois Department of Employment Security did not answer specific questions, a spokesperson did acknowledge the large influx of claims the department has seen during the pandemic.

“The number of claims that we’re looking at right now is … five times higher than it was during the Great Recession,” said IDES spokesperson Rebecca Cisco. “We’re at 1.8 million claims filed thus far.”

The department also issued a statement, stressing that recent fraudulent activity has forced the state to take extra precaution when processing claims.

“We’re processing PUA claims as they’re coming in as quickly as possible, while also being cautious for fraud and fraudulent claims,” Cisco said in a statement. “We know there is a nationwide fraud scheme affecting unemployment systems in every state, so it’s important the Department be as vigilant as possible when monitoring for fraud, while still getting benefits out the door to those who are eligible.”

The continued delays follow a string of issues at IDES after the federal government approved the massive $2 trillion stimulus package that included expansion of unemployment benefits in March.

Those hiccups include a glitch in Illinois’ processing system that leaked private information, busy signals when people called a toll-free hotline to get help and security to protect employees after angry benefit-seeking Illinoisans showed up at state offices.

Gov. JB Pritzker named a new head of the agency earlier this month.

In April, the agency warned there would be a lag in getting benefits to gig workers, because in addition to having to find a way to get benefits to an entirely new category of people, the state was already contending with a historic spike in unemployment claims for traditional workers. Illinois ended up spending at least $22 million to hire additional workers and pay an independent contractor to get a PUA processing system going.

But the state has not answered questions about when people might be able to expect back pay of benefits they’re owed, nor did it give information on how many claims have yet to be processed.

While the federal program that gave $600 in extra benefits has expired, Congress is trying to hash out a new deal to continue supplementing state unemployment benefits, which are capped at $484 per week in Illinois.

Mariah Woelfel is a general assignment reporter at WBEZ. You can follow her on Twitter @MariahWoelfel.



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Gig economy workers demand fair conditions

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James Yang is still angry over the road deaths of five colleagues at work who suffered the same pressure he felt as a food delivery driver.

The Chinese migrant worked for Hungry Panda but says the company booted him off the app after raising concerns about conditions.

Mr Yang earned as little as $12.50 an hour working 12-hour days.

He and fellow gig economy workers met with politicians at federal parliament on Thursday, campaigning for the same rights afforded to other workers.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese believes gig workers should be given the minimum wage and greater scope to access other base employment standards.

He urged the Morrison government to stand up to Uber and Hungry Panda in the same way it took on tech giants over the news media bargaining code.

“What we can’t have is a circumstance whereby we have two industrial relations systems,” Mr Albanese said.

“One that has pay, one that has annual leave, sick leave, one that has conditions that most Australians take for granted, and another whole section of society who are marginalised, who don’t enjoy any minimum wage.”

Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter said he had a great deal of sympathy for Mr Yang but he’s not going to tell him there’s an easy fix.

He said the Fair Work Commission had consistently ruled gig workers were contractors and not subject to the same conditions as employees.

Mr Porter said media code negotiations with Facebook and Google were years in the making after a consumer watchdog inquiry.

He noted the cost to business of changing the gig model and impact on consumer pricing as key complexities in regulating the sector.

Rideshare driver Malcolm McKenzie said gig workers didn’t have the same avenues to pursue unfair dismissal.

“Drivers face the possibility of termination through the app as a result of a fallacious claim against them, unsubstantiated claim against them,” he said.

Delivery driver Ashley Moreland said he faced losing his job if orders weren’t met on the company’s timeline.

“It really is time that laws caught up to the technology and that we brought some rights to this industry,” he said.

“Because I think it’s a bit of a shame that in a modern developed democracy, we have this situation of third world work.”

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Gig workers to form 20% of finance workforce in next five years

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More than half (52%) of financial institutions say they expect to have more gig-based employees in the next three to five years, according to PwC’s report, ‘Productivity 2021 and beyond: Upskilling the workforce of the future to create a competitive advantage in financial services’.

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Gig economy to supply fifth of financial services workers by 2026

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Up to a fifth of workers in financial services could be gig economy employees within the next five years globally, new research by PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests (PwC).  After surveying 500 financial services businesses, the researchers found that slightly more than half expect to have more gig-based employees – such as online platform workers – over the next three to five years.  The gig economy currently supplies just 5% of talent in financial services, but PwC expects this to rise to between 15% and 20% by 2026, driven by continuous cost pressures and the need to access digitally-skilled talent.  Crowdsourcing – which typically involves using the internet to divide work between many different participants – was also highlighted as a key contributor to improve productivity by the survey respondents.  Half of businesses said they had leveraged the practice, up from 21% in 2018, of which 80% said it had added “high value” to their organisations.  John Garvey, global financial services leader at PwC US, said that COVID-19 and remote working have “opened the door to accessing talent outside of a firm’s physical location”, including outside of the country.  “What we are seeing now is a talent marketplace for gig workers in financial services, competing to take advantage of their specialist skill set and boost productivity within their businesses,” he continued.  “Leaders in the industry are looking seriously at their workforces to evaluate which roles need to be performed by permanent employees and which can be performed by gig-economy workers, contractors or even crowd-sourced on a case-by-case basis.”  However, challenges remain for financial services businesses wishing to take on gig workers, which will require overcoming several obstacles.   The survey found that the most common issues for businesses include confidentiality concerns, a lack of knowledge, regulatory risk, and overall risk avoidance.  Garvey said that few full-time employees and an increasing percentage of gig-economy talent and skills that they

Up to a fifth of workers in financial services could be gig economy employees within the next five years globally, new research by PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests (PwC).

After surveying 500 financial services businesses, the researchers found that slightly more than half expect to have more gig-based employees – such as online platform workers – over the next three to five years.

The gig economy currently supplies just 5% of talent in financial services, but PwC expects this to rise to between 15% and 20% by 2026, driven by continuous cost pressures and the need to access digitally-skilled talent.

Crowdsourcing – which typically involves using the internet to divide work between many different participants – was also highlighted as a key contributor to improve productivity by the survey respondents.

Half of businesses said they had leveraged the practice, up from 21% in 2018, of which 80% said it had added “high value” to their organisations.

John Garvey, global financial services leader at PwC US, said that COVID-19 and remote working have “opened the door to accessing talent outside of a firm’s physical location”, including outside of the country.

“What we are seeing now is a talent marketplace for gig workers in financial services, competing to take advantage of their specialist skill set and boost productivity within their businesses,” he continued.

“Leaders in the industry are looking seriously at their workforces to evaluate which roles need to be performed by permanent employees and which can be performed by gig-economy workers, contractors or even crowd-sourced on a case-by-case basis.”

However, challenges remain for financial services businesses wishing to take on gig workers, which will require overcoming several obstacles. 

The survey found that the most common issues for businesses include confidentiality concerns, a lack of knowledge, regulatory risk, and overall risk avoidance.

Garvey said that few full-time employees and an increasing percentage of gig-economy talent and skills that they can access on-demand, are making organisations far more innovative, nimble and cost-efficient.

“Many of the most valuable companies in the world share one thing in common: they have embraced the platform economy as a business model,” he added.

 

Image credit: iStock

Author: Chris Seekings

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