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Retirement Planning for the ‘Gig’ Economy

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Ride sharing app with driver

Changes have been coming fast and furiously for workers in the gig economy. Before the pandemic, the number of gig workers–a broad coalition that includes delivery and ride-share drivers as well as contract-based knowledge workers–was growing quickly.

Enter the pandemic. While the broader trend toward companies hiring fewer permanent employees still appears to be intact, the coronavirus crisis has changed the landscape. Ride-share driving jobs through once-booming services like Uber and Lyft disappeared almost overnight, while the number of gig jobs in the food-, grocery-, and package-delivery areas increased. The types of workers seeking these jobs have changed, too, as those who were laid-off and furloughed sought to replace their incomes, while some older workers or those with pre-existing health conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19 complications have stepped away.

Self-employed individuals have a completely different set of opportunities and challenges, from both a lifestyle and financial perspective, than those who work full-time for a single employer.

One of the traditional selling points for contractors is the ability to better balance work and family obligations. For some parents during the pandemic, for example, their daytime roles as at-home learning instructors have all but necessitated gig work during non-school hours. Contract work, especially in certain specialized fields such as technology, can also be lucrative financially.

At the same time, not having a steady paycheck–not to mention missing out on crucial employee benefits –can be a source of financial stress. The threat of periodic income disruptions may also make workers with non-traditional employment arrangements less likely or less able to save for long-term goals. If they know they could have a months-long disruption in their paychecks, they might be reticent to park extra funds in a retirement account that carries strictures on premature withdrawals.

But self-employed individuals can and should take steps to ensure their retirement security, just as people in conventional work arrangements should. Here are some tips to help them do so.

First Stop: Assess Insurance Coverage
Building retirement savings is important for contractors and other people in non-traditional work arrangements. But before they focus on retirement savings, such workers should first ensure that they’ve adequately protected themselves against shorter-term financial hardships, which can derail their plans to achieve long-term financial goals. If a self-employed person is forced to turn to unattractive forms of financing such as credit cards to defray near-term income needs, the cost of that financing is likely to swamp the long-term returns on any money earmarked for retirement. Here, lining up adequate insurance coverage is an essential first stop, especially extended healthcare and disability coverage.
 

Next Stop: Bulk Up Emergency/Short-Term Reserves
In addition to conducting an insurance fire drill, contract workers should also assess the adequacy of their liquid reserves before earmarking assets for retirement. The main reason to amass a so-called emergency fund is to provide cash flow in case of job loss. And lumpy income streams, as well as periodic income disruptions, are all but facts of life for contractors and other self-employed individuals. Moreover, disability coverage may be cost-prohibitive for self-employed people. All of these factors argue for self-employed workers maintaining emergency funds that are larger than the standard three to six months’ worth of living expenses often prescribed by financial planners; I think closer to a year’s worth of living expenses makes sense for self-employed individuals. And if taxes are not being withheld from a contractor’s paycheck, that cash fund can also serve as a receptacle for monies earmarked for taxes.

Next Stop: Find a Way to Save More for Retirement
A person assiduously investing $6,000 a year in a retirement account for 40 years who enjoyed 6% growth on her money would have a little over $920,000 at the end of the period. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but nor is it enough to fund retirement for many households, especially considering the effects inflation will have on purchasing power over that 40-year period.

For that reason, individual self-employed workers looking to amass significant sums for retirement need to take a look at additional receptacles for retirement savings. Rather than dumping the money into one of these accounts before the deadline each year, they should take advantage of the automatic investment features that can accompany many of these accounts, contributing fixed sums at regular intervals.

Next Stop: Invest With an Eye Toward Your Human Capital
At first blush, retirement savings for self-employed workers should be invested just like the savings for any other worker. Investors with longer time horizons to retirement can take more risks in search of higher growth, whereas those with shorter time horizons should balance risky, faster-growing investments with more-stable, slow-growth investments.

That’s generally true. Yet as noted above, self-employed workers often have more volatile income streams than their counterparts who receive fixed, regular paychecks. While it’s never ideal to withdraw retirement funds early, the odds are higher that self-employed workers will need to tap their accounts unexpectedly or prematurely. Thus, self-employed workers’ investment portfolios should arguably be managed a bit more conservatively to reflect that possibility. That prospect also argues for self-employed individuals holding some of their retirement assets in discrete conservative holdings rather than obtaining that same conservative exposure via an all-in-one product like a target-date fund.

This article was originally written for a U.S. Audience

 

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UK Supreme Court’s Uber decision is a victory for all gig workers | Business and Economy News

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For the past few years, the “gig economy” business model – in which workers are classified as independent contractors and therefore not given basic employment rights – has been on trial across the world.

From Uruguay and the United States to Australia and France, couriers and drivers have been bringing legal challenges against food delivery and passenger transport companies, such as Uber, Lyft, and Deliveroo, arguing that as their “workers” or “employees” they should be entitled to employment protections such as minimum wage, paid holidays and the right to unionise.

The United Kingdom has been one of the main battlegrounds for such cases and things have not gone well for the companies: they have lost virtually every high-profile workers’ rights case that has been brought against them.

And last week, they lost again. In a landmark decision published on February 19, the UK Supreme Court ruled that Uber drivers belong to the legal category of “limb (b) workers”, which entitles them to employment rights.

The court reasoned that “the transportation service performed by drivers and offered to passengers through the Uber app is very tightly defined and controlled by Uber… [It] is designed and organised in such a way as to provide a standardised service to passengers in which drivers are perceived as substantially interchangeable and from which Uber, rather than individual drivers, obtains the benefit of customer loyalty and goodwill.”

For anyone who has taken an Uber before, this assessment is no shocker. The decision is also not surprising as Uber had already lost three times in a row before the case reached the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, this decision still has dramatic implications for workers.

“Gig economy” companies often make the people who work for them sign highly sophisticated contracts that are designed to make it look like they are independent entrepreneurs rather than the companies’ employees. When the issue goes to court, the companies rely on these contracts to argue their case. These contracts are key to the functioning of the “gig economy” because they are the main mechanism through which the companies try to disguise the otherwise blindingly obvious fact that they are hiring workers and telling them how to do their jobs but refusing to give them basic employment rights and protections.

The Supreme Court addressed this issue in its latest decision against Uber head-on. In particular, it held that courts and tribunals should not treat these contracts as the starting point of their analysis, because “an employer is often in a position to dictate such contract terms” and “the individual performing the work has little or no ability to influence those terms”.

The effect of the Uber decision is that it will now be even harder for employers to use their contracts to misclassify their workers and deprive them of basic rights. This means that any attempt by Uber to squirm out of the decision by changing the contracts – as the company has already hinted at – will be all but hopeless in the courts.

With last week’s decision against Uber, the Supreme Court also underlined its commitment to ensuring that the laws passed by Parliament – in this case laws that aim to protect vulnerable workers from exploitative employers – are being fully implemented.

The UK Supreme Court has been bolstering the role of Parliament for a while now.

In 2017, the court held that despite the Brexit referendum vote, then-Prime Minister Theresa May could not take the UK out of the European Union without an act of Parliament. Later that year, the court struck down a regime of employment tribunal fees, noting that if people do not have unimpeded access to the courts to demand the enforcement of the laws passed by Parliament, “the democratic election of Members of Parliament may become a meaningless charade”.

And in 2019, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson attempted to shut down Parliament for several weeks, the Supreme Court ruled the decision unlawful. Indeed, it is a hypocritical peculiarity of British politics in recent years that despite a Brexit campaign fought by some – ostensibly – to protect the sovereign role of Parliament, it is the Supreme Court, rather than the Brexiteer government in power, that has become the institution’s staunchest defender.

With its latest decision against Uber, the Supreme Court sent the message to all UK workers that it would not allow gig economy companies to trample employment rights and protections that have been enshrined in law by their elected representatives.

The impact of the decision is likely to be felt beyond Britain’s shores as well.

For example, some of the worker’s rights the Supreme Court considered in last week’s decision come from European Union (EU) law. In EU law, various employment rights, such as paid holidays, equal pay for men and women, and protection from discrimination, apply to “workers”, a legal category with the same definition in the bloc’s 27 member states. So, the fact that Uber drivers were held to be “workers” in the UK would likely be persuasive for courts across the EU considering whether the company’s drivers are entitled to the same rights there.

Beyond Europe, from India to the US, the decision has been hailed as a symbolic precedent for regulators and courts.

Although employment laws differ between countries, Uber’s defence in workers’ rights cases is usually the same: it claims to be a technology, rather than transportation, company, acting as an intermediary between drivers and passengers. The fact that a panel of six justices of the UK’s highest court has unanimously rejected this absurd assertion is likely to be persuasive for courts around the world grappling with the same issue.

In the US, there are multiple definitions of “employee” across state and federal laws. However, the courts often consider the control a company exerts over a worker as a key factor when deciding whether that worker is entitled to employment rights or not. So, the UK Supreme Court’s extensive discussion of how Uber controls its drivers will likely be helpful to drivers arguing their cases across the pond.

In Australia, Uber has successfully defended itself against several legal challenges concerning workers’ rights (although it recently settled the most high profile of these after being scolded by a judge in federal court). However, Sheryn Omeri, one of the lawyers representing Uber drivers in the UK, who also practices law in Australia, suggests the UK Supreme Court’s decision will be influential on future Australian cases. UK court decisions are “the obvious choice for Australia to look to”, she told me.

It is important to note that when it comes to regulating the “gig economy”, the judiciary, workers and trade unions cannot act alone. Governments must force companies to obey the law by way of prosecutions and fines. Indeed, the UK government has a particularly abysmal record on this, making the role of trade unions all the more important. But with last week’s decision, the exploitative “gig economy” business model has been dealt a decisive blow, and for that, couriers, drivers, and unions worldwide should celebrate.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.



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As Congress scrutinizes gig worker rules, small-business owners need to know the basics – The Philadelphia Inquirer

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Uber’s UK ruling could have implications for gig economy startups

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Former Uber drivers Yaseen Aslam and James Farrar first brought their case against Uber in 2016
(Carl Court/Getty Images)

The UK’s Supreme Court has rejected Uber‘s appeal against an earlier ruling that said its drivers must be classified as workers, a result that may have a significant impact on other gig economy companies.

The decision—which cannot be appealed—means thousands of UK Uber drivers cannot qualify as being self-employed, entitling them to both minimum wage and holiday pay. The ridehailing company could now face paying substantial compensation to its drivers.

The ruling, which criticized Uber for sidestepping UK labor laws to withhold benefits, could influence other battles between gig workers and the companies that hire them. Earlier this month, the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain appealed against a court decision preventing riders for food delivery startup Deliveroo from engaging in collective bargaining due to their self-employed status. Deliveroo, which is backed by investors including Durable Capital Partners and Amazon, is looking to go public this year.

“Employees should benefit from improved rights; however, employers are likely to face increased costs of labor and disruption to their business models, which have proven to achieve rapid scale with gig workers,” said PitchBook analyst Nalin Patel. “The ruling may also now set a precedent in the UK and force other gig economy startups that utilize the self-employed contractor model to rethink how they operate in the region moving forward.”

Former Uber drivers James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam originally won their tribunal against Uber in 2016. Uber appealed the decision, but it was upheld in 2017, and again in 2018 by the High Court.

“This ruling will fundamentally re-order the gig economy and bring an end to rife exploitation of workers by means of algorithmic and contract trickery,” said Farrar, who is also a general secretary with the App Drivers and Couriers Union. “Uber drivers are cruelly sold a false dream of endless flexibility and entrepreneurial freedom.”

In a statement, Uber’s regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, Jamie Heywood,  said the court decision was focused on a “small number of drivers” who used the app in 2016. Since then, he said the company had made changes to its business,  providing free insurance in case of sickness or injury. He added: “We are committed to doing more and will now consult with every active driver across the UK to understand the changes they want to see.”

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