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Be it in Paris or California, gig economy workers fear they can no longer survive

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Whether in Paris, Kuala Lumpur or California, gig economy workers fear they can no longer survive on meager earnings from jobs that leave them increasingly vulnerable.

The term “gig” stretches back a century to jazz musicians who used it to refer to a one-off show, but now the “gig economy” involves millions of people in all sorts of jobs, from Uber drivers to Deliveroo delivery teams.

Algorithm slaves

Wissem Inal travels more than 700 kilometers (450 miles) a week on his scooter, delivering up to 10 takeout meals in the Paris suburbs every evening.

“At the moment, with the lockdown I end up with 500 euros ($600) a month net,” said the 32-year-old who has driven for Deliveroo since 2017 but also takes jobs for Uber Eats and Stuart.

Inal has trouble seeing the “good side” of his job at the moment and criticizes calculations by Deliveroo’s algorithm that decide how much to offer him for jobs.

“A delivery that’s worth six euros at noon is worth just three euros in the evening. You can’t earn a living with this job, unless you’re willing to live like a slave.”

He recently joined an association of gig delivery drivers that seeks to improve working conditions.

“We should be able to defend ourselves,” he maintains.

‘Flexibility’ or ‘on demand’?

When Erica Mighetto began driving with Lyft three years ago, “I just loved it,” she said.

Her grown son had left the house and she thought it would be a great move until she found a job in bookkeeping or property management.

“I really enjoyed, you know, choosing my own hours,” she told the Agence France-Presse (AFP). “I thought life was good.”

Mighetto lived in Sacramento but would drive more than an hour to the San Francisco area on weekends because there was more work in the richer towns.

She slept in her car or shelled out $25 for a room.

Mighetto was pulling in $60-$80 an hour before expenses in 2017, but a series of rate cuts caused that to fall to $20 at the beginning of the year and to less than $10 in March.

She finds the algorithms opaque and pernicious.

“So it knows me personally,” said Mighetto. “And the bonus offers were changed, you know, based on what I was willing to accept.”

If friends were getting bonus offers of $50 for doing 20 rides per week, the algorithm would offer her $350 – but for 120 rides a week.

To get enough jobs and claim the bonus, drivers would accept lower fees.

“You’re in this like, vicious cycle black hole,” said Mighetto.

She does not buy the argument that gig work is flexible.

“I personally call it on-demand work … there’s no flexibility – you have to work when there’s demand. You’re going to work late nights, long weekends and every single holiday.”

In the spring, she gave up driving for fear of catching COVID-19 but had to fight for unemployment benefits of $450 per week instead of the $167 paid to gig workers.

She received a $600 per week supplemental federal benefit that the U.S. introduced as part of its COVID-19 stimulus measures, but it ran out after four months.

Mighetto is bitter about a California referendum – backed by Uber – to overturn a state law that would have forced gig firms to recognize their drivers as employees and pay them minimum wages and benefits.

California voters approved the measure with 58% of the vote.

“We shouldn’t be stripping workers of basic labor protections so people can get cheap rides,” she said.

Juggle the platforms

Twenty-seven-year-old Devon Gutekunst delivers for DoorDash, which just took in almost $3.4 billion in its stock market debut.

His smartphone offers him a job – $5.50 for a 4.6-mile delivery in 30 minutes.

“That’s the equivalent of $11 an hour, that’s too little,” said Gutekunst.

“My personal minimum is $18 an hour. I often make more than that, because I have a strategy.”

Part of it is to be selective and focus on western Los Angeles and the beach towns of Marina Del Rey and Santa Monica.

But mostly it consists of playing different platforms off against each other.

Gutekunst’s job acceptance rate for DoorDash was 12% that day, but he said it can often be just 2%.

“To make decent money … you really have to juggle, to play with all the offers to make your living.”

$27 for 14-hour shift in Malaysia

Amal Fahmi, 24, keeps his eye glued to his cellphone and the Grab delivery app popular in Southeast Asia.

He is one of many Malaysians who make a living delivering food, medication and shopping by motorcycle in Petaling Jaya, an affluent suburb of Kuala Lumpur.

Before COVID-19 hit, he was a driver for Grab in Johor, southern Malaysia.

“I could easily make a comfortable living. But after the virus outbreak, life became tough as many people lost their jobs and my income was reduced,” Amal told AFP as he waited outside a department store for his ninth order of the day.

Given the bleak prospects in Johor, he headed to the capital.

“There were no job opportunities in my home town as I lack academic qualifications,” he explained.

Amal earns a little more than $700 a month if he puts in long hours. That day he reached his daily average of $27 after a grueling 14 hours.

“Look around, there are so many of us doing delivery. It is getting tough,” he said.

Amal would prefer a steady job but does not completely regret the path he has chosen.

“What motivates me is I am the boss … I can manage my time and most importantly, no one scolds me,” he laughed.

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5 Gig Economy Tips That Will Help You Succeed

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The gig economy has been expanding at a scorching pace, with some surveys indicating that nearly one in three American workers now participate in it, whether part-time or full-time.

A Harvard Business Review study showed that participants in the gig economy do well because they avoid the distractions, pressures, and monotonous routines associated with the traditional workplace.

Here are a five tips that can help you thrive in the gig economy.

Master time management

As a freelancer operating in the gig economy, you are not bound by the fixed timings of a physical office. While this is an excellent advantage, you will not be able to maximize your opportunity if you are not managing your time efficiently.

Download a task manager app on your phone, utilize the calendar app on your laptop, and set up daily reminders for your video meets and phone calls.

Smart time management techniques will help you enjoy the work-life balance you always wanted without diluting your income.

Cultivate your brand

If you are offering your skills or services as a gig worker, the most important product you are selling is you. Focus on building a personal brand that will set you apart from the competition. Clients will find it easy to recall you each time they have a project to outsource.

Get a professional brand name and logo done online, update your LinkedIn and Facebook profiles (if you have a Facebook account), and build a solid digital portfolio to present your skills.

Request client testimonials from past clients, and showcase them effectively.

Create passive income

When you are operating alone as a gig worker, you only have 24 hours in a day. You can only complete a limited number of client projects at a given time. But that does not mean that your income has to be limited. You can find ways to earn additional money without excessively stretching out your time.

Consider getting a roommate if you have a spare room, or become an Airbnb host. If you are working from home, you may even rent out your car using the Turo app. These gigs can create a stable passive income stream.

Control your finances

When you work as an independent contractor, an online entrepreneur or a freelancer, managing your money will require some careful planning.

Unlike permanent employees working for a company, the gig economy does not provide you access to 401(k) or some other employer sponsored retirement plans and health insurance.

It is vital to focus on securing your own financial future when you are a gig worker. Consider automating your bill payments, participate in a systematic investment plan (SIP), and get adequate health and life insurance coverage. Talk to a certified financial planner if necessary.

Keep skills sharp

In a full-time job, complacency can often set in and learning becomes static. As a gig worker, you have the freedom and flexibility to constantly update your knowledge and skills and stay on top of your niche.

Take some free or paid online courses and training that can help you deliver more value to your clients. Learning will also widen your horizons and propel you to do bigger things.

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Entrepreneurs-by-chance who set up a thriving marketplace for gig workers – Business Standard

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View: Gig workers are employees. Start treating them that way

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One of the nation’s largest grocery chains, Albertsons, announced this month that it would replace many of its staff delivery drivers with independent contractors working for the delivery service DoorDash. Those contractors will not receive important labor protections that have been provided to the full-time employees they will be replacing.

For years, companies and legislators have debated whether so-called gig workers like those who drive cars for Uber or deliver groceries for DoorDash should be entitled to benefits like minimum wage and unemployment insurance. But in the wake of a California ballot proposition passed in November and a rule just released by the Trump administration, it appears that the erosion of labor protections is advancing aggressively.

When the gig economy sprang up during the Obama years, it seemed novel. Companies like Uber used software to offer assignments to people on call who set their own hours. One major caveat: As independent contractors, these workers wouldn’t get traditional wage protections, workers’ compensation, health insurance or unemployment benefits. But that didn’t stop the quick expansion of the gig economy.

In 2019, California legislators sought to improve life for gig-company workers, passing a law that required companies to treat app-deployed workers as employees. In response, the companies spent $200 million promoting Proposition 22, a state ballot initiative that affirmed gig companies’ classification of their workers as contractors while enshrining limited protections.

This hybrid labor category came from an unexpected source. In 2015, Seth Harris and Alan Krueger, labor economists from the Obama administration, argued against giving gig workers employment status. Instead, they proposed a compromise: App-deployed workers could receive some rights, like tax withholding and a right to organize, but not others, such as a minimum wage and unemployment insurance.

But researchers like us who have documented the exploitive conditions of gig work worried that this approach would hurt a much larger group of service workers — just as the Albertsons decision will.

App workers need the same benefits afforded to traditional workers, including payment for time between assignments, unemployment benefits and the right to organize. The pandemic, which greatly worsened conditions for delivery workers and “shoppers” (the people assembling grocery orders), has exposed just how vital basic protections are for vulnerable workers.

In ongoing research with colleagues at Northeastern University, one of us, Dr. Schor, analyzed a delivery platform that converted its California workers to employees before the passage of the 2019 law. Both top and middle management said they felt positively about the switch, citing improved performances and increased productivity that partly offset the costs of employment protections.

In ethnographic research on Uber and Lyft ride-hail drivers, Dr. Dubal found that, contrary to the companies’ promises of freedom and flexibility, longtime drivers feel trapped in grueling work schedules and controlled by their algorithmic bosses. Notably, these findings undermine Uber and Lyft’s arguments against employment status.

In a bad omen for workers outside California, Dara Khosrowshahi, the chief executive of Uber, has vowed to support efforts similar to Proposition 22 elsewhere. Lyft, a competitor, is behind political action committees that will support candidates who will protect its business model. Shawn Carolan, a venture capitalist whose firm has invested in Uber, has written that the Proposition 22 model should be extended to other industries, such as education, health care and computer programming — which would increase the number of Americans who toil without a safety net or predictable earnings.

In some sense, gig-economy companies have been moving in parallel with Washington. The Trump Labor Department this month released a rule, set to go into effect in March, that will make it easier for companies to designate their workers as independent contractors.

But the incoming Biden administration can undo the rule. And working with Congress, it can move to dignify app-deployed work by calling it what it is: employment.

The Biden administration can end the state-by-state, sector-by-sector battle over basic workers’ rights. It can clarify that exemptions from employment and labor laws violate the Fair Labor Standards Act, therefore invalidating Proposition 22.

Marty Walsh, Joe Biden’s nominee for labor secretary, can also move to revoke a Trump administration letter from 2019 that classifies gig workers as contractors. Perhaps most important, the Biden administration could work on winning passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which would untie the hands of workers who seek to organize their workplaces.

As inequality reaches record highs, the hybrid-worker category threatens the future of all service workers. With the building of progressive momentum to address racial and economic inequality, the Biden administration should expand protections for all workers, not allow them to erode for millions more.



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