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‘Thank God we have that’: Wattpad author says writing gig became coronavirus emergency fund – National

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When Caroline Richardson’s husband was temporarily laid off in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, money became a concern.

The family of four was down to one income and the bills kept coming. There was the mortgage, car payments and two kids who wouldn’t stop growing and needing new clothes just because the economy was going through a rough patch, she recalls.

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When did you last work? 1.3M jobless Canadians have passed critical 6-month mark

Luckily, though, Richardson’s long-time hobby came to the rescue. Government employee by day, Richardson is a writer of — in her own words — “mature, steamy romantic stories with a happy ending” in her free time.

It’s a labour of love she’s kept up for years, says Richardson, who has four book-length stories under her belt. But it wasn’t until one of her most recent works took off on Wattpad, an online storytelling platform, that her pastime became a lucrative side-gig.

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Richardson’s novel Two Cream, No Sugar — later re-titled Out of His League — became a Wattpad sensation, eventually hitting 1.1 million reads. The platform quickly included it in Paid Stories, its paid content program, where readers can buy novels in full or as chapters.

Soon, Richardson received her first cheque at the beginning of 2020.

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Richardson had planned to use the money for a trip overseas to visit an old friend in England, but when the pandemic hit, the money became a much-needed financial cushion.

“Thank God we have that,” she says.

Richardson has since received another quarterly check from Wattpad for an amount she calls “very helpful.”

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Born as a free platform for readers and writers of fiction, Wattpad has grown into a juggernaut, with a monthly readership of over 90 million and five million active writers.

It launched its paid content program in 2018 and is also now publishing its own books and co-producing its stories for both TV and film.

The company says it has seen a 151-per cent increase in the volume of new submissions from writers between January and April, as the world huddled inside amid COVID-19 restrictions.


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Are freelance platforms a good way to make money in a pinch?

Amid record job losses linked to the pandemic, millions have turned to online gigs to make ends meet.

A recent study by Upwork, a freelance job platform, found the share of U.S. professionals who freelance full-time has reached 36 per cent of the U.S. workforce, eight percentage points above its level in 2019.

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Onlyfans, a subscription-based social media platform famous for its racy content, reported 3.5 million sign-ups in March, with 60,000 of them new creators, according to the Daily Beast.

READ MORE: How to save an extra $100 a month – without even thinking about it

Substack, which lets writers monetize newsletters, has seen its number of readers and active writers double, according to WIRED.

In Canada, the COVID-19 outbreak has also driven up interest in online freelance platforms.

The volume of links to Wattpad shared on Twitter in Canada between March and October was up more than 40 per cent between compared to the previous four months, according to audience intelligence company Pulsar.

Substack, online freelance workplace Fiverr and Teachable, which lets users create and sell online courses, have each seen growth of 20 per cent or more, a Pulsar analysis shows.


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Platforms that connect freelancers to businesses and individual clients can be a quick way to monetize work-from-home skills, says Jackie Lam, a freelance personal finance writer and expert on gig work.

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It doesn’t take much to create an account or profile page and start advertising your services or bid on projects, she says. If you’ve never side-hustled before, platforms are an easy way to survey what other similarly qualified freelancers are offering, how much they’re charging and how they’re promoting themselves, she says.

They can also help you quickly get an idea of what kind of work you like to do and how long different projects take, she notes.

But be prepared for competition, Lam warns.

Platforms, she says, “can be a very saturated market.” Unless you can carve out your own niche, there will probably be lots of people offering the same services or vying for the same projects.

“It could easily be a race to the bottom,” Lam says.

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While platforms can be a freelancer’s training wheels, seeking out clients on your own may eventually turn out to be more lucrative, according to Lam.

But Pulsar’s Davide Berretta calls the likes of Substack and Teachable the “next generation” of platforms.

They’re “for creators who want to have that direct audience relationship, that is not just about content, but it’s also about commerce and it’s also about selling access to that premium content.”

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On Wattpad, writers retain the rights to their work, says general manager Jeanne Lam. They can approach literary agents and publishers on their own — success on the platform can serve as proof of concept — or they can publish through Wattpad Books.

The company uses machine learning technology — combined with flesh-and-bone editors — to sift through millions of stories and identify those with publishing or paid-content potential.

So far, there are more than 400 writers in Wattpad’s paid stories program Lam says. And nearly 1,000 stories from the platform have been turned into books or adapted for TV and film.

Richardson, for her part, says she wasn’t thinking about the money when she joined Wattpad. She cherished the ability to reach out to readers all over the world and the chance to hone her craft, she says.

The cheques have been a nice surprise that happened to materialize exactly at the right time.

And if her book one day becomes a movie, she says, “why not? Wouldn’t that be fun?”




© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.



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Portugal’s gig-economy workers set to become staff

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LISBON, Oct 22 (Reuters) – Portugal has moved a step closer to ordering digital platforms such as Uber and Glovo to employ some of their drivers as staff with formal contracts and benefits, becoming the latest European nation to tackle the gig economy.

The bill, which was approved by the government late on Thursday but still needs to get the final stamp of approval from parliament, aims to grant thousands of riders working rights as employees and not freelancers.

It is likely to be approved as the Socialist government has the support from other left-wing parties. If given the green light, it will be another win for unions worldwide fighting for better pay and benefits for those employed in the gig economy.

Britain’s Supreme Court ruled in February that Uber drivers were entitled to workers’ rights and, a few months later, Spain gave food delivery companies three months to employ their couriers as staff.

Portugal’s Labour Minister Ana Mendes Godinho said the bill assumes that a worker of the digital platform operator is staff with a formal contract whenever there is evidence of relationships between the platform, the worker who provides the service and the customers.

“Fighting precarious employment is one of our top priorities,” Godinho told a news conference.

She said that digital platforms will also have “the obligation to transparently inform the Work Conditions Authority, workers and their representatives, about the criteria of algorithms and artificial intelligence mechanisms used.”

Under pressure to come up with an EU-wide solution, the European Commission launched a public consultation earlier this year to determine couriers’ legal employment status and how to improve their working conditions. read more

The gig economy grew during the COVID-19 pandemic as people around the world needed goods and food delivered to their homes and millions of newly unemployed were eager to work.

But many digital platform workers say they are being exploited by companies that pay low wages, encourage long working hours, while providing little social and health protection.

Reporting by Sergio Goncalves and Catarina Demony; Editing by David Evans

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Gig workers in Karnataka too can expect weekly offs, other benefits- The New Indian Express

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Express News Service

BENGALURU: Gig workers with e-commerce platforms can hope for better days with various benefits. With the Union Government proposing to revise the definition of employment to include new types of workforce, the Labour Department in the state is planning to conduct a survey of workers in the unorganised sector, including drivers enlisted with mobile app-based cab platforms, delivery agents and food delivery agents, to ensure that they get benefits like weekly offs and minimum wages.

The Centre is expected to include new forms of workforce, including gig and platform workers, and anganwadi workers, in a new set of reforms under the proposed National Employment Policy that seeks to ensure a fair deal to the workers. Under this policy, these workers will be eligible for minimum wages, weekly offs and other leaves and also other worker-related benefits like Provident Fund and ESI facility. Presently, gig workers, including food delivery agents and mobile-app based drivers, are not employees of the company — they are paid per delivery or trip and they have to bear the cost of fuel.

Speaking to The New Indian Express, State Labour Minister Shivaram Hebbar said, “Though the Centre is yet to finalise the policy, Karnataka will go ahead and conduct a district-wise survey of mobile-based taxi/autorickshaw drivers, delivery agents and also food delivery agents. We can provide facilities to beneficiaries only if we have proper data on them.”

Hebbar said he will discuss the matter with Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai and other officials concerned and a final decision will be taken after the October 30 bypolls. Meanwhile, over 7 lakh people from Karnataka have registered on the e-SHRAM portal for unorganised workers that was launched last month. Hebbar informed the Assembly in the recent session that there are over 1.6 crore unorganised workers in Karnataka. 

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Why Do Gig Workers Want You To Delete Instacart?

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Robin Pape is a gig worker and Founding Member of the Gig Workers Collective. Errol Schweizer led the Grocery team at Whole Foods Market for 9 years, including during 2015 when the retailer was an early adapter of Instacart.

Errol Schweizer: What’s it like to be a gig worker?

Robin Pape: There’s a lot of uncertainty involved with being a gig worker. You never really know what you’re gonna make, how much you’re going to work. You generally don’t have health care. And there’s no sick pay, no paid time off. There’s just a lot of uncertainty. 

Errol: How is it different than being a regular employee?

Robin: Well, as a gig worker, we’re classified as independent contractors. And we at the Gig Workers Collective believe that that’s an intentional misclassification and that it’s done to specifically skirt the labor laws. So you know, if we worked for the company as a direct employee, we would have access to health insurance and sick pay and paid time off, and they would be paying into our taxes and towards social security. We would be using their vehicles instead of our own. So that there’s a lot of differences in how we’re treated. 

Errol: What’s the issue with the business model? 

Robin: So usually, the pay with these good companies starts out pretty well. And then as time goes on, it’s unsustainable. And it drops and there’s changes to how the pay models work. Initially, they’ll usually start with a very clear and concrete pay model, and then switch to something that’s more of a black-box, an algorithm where we can’t really compute what exactly it is that we’re being paid for, what’s mileage, just the simple base pay for an order. The company makes money by charging extra money to the customers. And in addition to that, they’ll pay service delivery fees to the company.

So getting into these gigs, it can feel initially like you’re making good money, because you haven’t been educated about all of the costs and the expenses involved. But at the end of the day, you’re lucky to break even.

Errol: How have you seen gig work change during COVID-19? What’s it been like?

Robin: There’s been a huge increase in the number of people who are using delivery services. I think that’s tapering off a bit now that people are feeling more comfortable and more people are vaccinated and getting back into the stores themselves. So while there was this huge boom in customer base, Instacart, in particular, cut our base pay, And they hired twice as many shoppers, and they sent us inadequate PPE, the shelves were empty, customers were upset about this, it was taken out on shoppers, it was out of our control. People were frustrated. It went from shopping usually one, maybe two orders at a time to most often shopping three orders at a time, and having to communicate with three different people, while you’re in the middle of a pandemic, and everything is taking so much longer as you’re going back and forth, back and forth, fulfilling requests for three people who aren’t going to get everything that they want. And you know, there were limits. You could only have two bags of frozen vegetables. And, one case of water and people weren’t happy about it.

But people were proud of what they were doing. They weren’t ashamed to say that they worked for Instacart or one of the other gigs, there was some pride. And all of these people were going somewhere that no one else wanted to go, that people were afraid to go. 

But overall, in general, we’ve seen pay cuts from 30 to 50%. And a lot of it is out of our control, a lot of it doesn’t have to be this way. And the things that we’re asking for right now are things that we’ve had in the past that were taken from us so that the company could be more profitable. 

Right now they want to paint this glowing picture, and they either want to sell the company or announce an IPO. And we’re hoping that it’s a lot harder to do that when investors understand just how poorly this company cares for its employees, for its independent contractors. 

Errol: What are the five demands that the Gig Workers Collective has around reforming Instacart and other similar apps?

Robin: All of our demands are things that we we’ve either had, or have been told we have, but it hasn’t really been made clear.

So the first demand that we have is that they return to paying by the order instead of by the batch. So people think of as a batch as one order, but it can actually be one order, or two or three full service orders where you shop and deliver. And in some areas, including mine, it can be as many as five delivery orders. Right now, the minimum pay for a delivery order is $5.00. But if they put five of them together in one batch, there’s still only guaranteeing $5.00. And that’s not a base pay. That’s a minimum pay. So that can include the mileage, that can include heavy order pay.

So that that’s the first one is that they pay us by the order. That’s the easiest way to make sure that we’re paid fairly and at least a minimum wage. The second demand is that they reintroduce item commission; this was removed in late 2018. We used to receive a base pay for an order plus item commission. So you could pretty easily figure out what you’re going to get paid for an order by looking at the number of items in it. In 2018, they change that to a black-box algorithm. At one point they took away the ability for customers to tip. We had to fight to get that back, you know, they stole our tips. They used our tips to subsidize pay, they had to apologize publicly and pay us back tips. So there have been all sorts of issues with tips and pay and commission. So in addition to having batches only contain one order, or if more than one order, have them be fairly priced. we would like them to reintroduce item commission. 

We’d also like them to stop punishing shoppers for issues that are out of their control. So this could look like a lot of different things during COVID-19. We were having, you know a lot of markdowns because things weren’t available in the store, or because people wanted three of something and the limit was one. So there were issues there with things not being delivered on time, and shoppers would be penalized for that. And then, you know, the thing that’s most out of our control is that not all customers are honest. We like to think that most of them are. So all these things together can really have an impact on ratings. Instacart keeps track of the last hundred orders that you shop. So the way that it is right now if you have a perfect five star rating, you get to see the best orders that they’re offering. When I had a 4.98 I was seeing the best offers. I shopped a few orders and didn’t get any ratings. So some of my five stars fell off which gave weight to the four star I have. And that brought me down to a 4.97 and I didn’t see any good orders. Now it could take weeks for somebody to get their ratings back up where it needs to be and it’s really unfair to the independent contractors. 

The fourth demand is that we’re looking for a clear occupational death benefit. The contract says that they may pay death benefits. Just like they said that they may pay for COVID. And it’s still not really clear what they mean by that they may pay occupational death benefits. We’d like them to be guaranteed, We’d like them to be accessible. We’d like to know how they’re accessible, and we’d like them to be comparable to properly classified employees. 

And then the final demand is that they return the default tip to 10%. Currently, it’s 5%. So if a customer tips 10%, or 20%, the next time they go into order, the default tip should be set to that higher percent. And Instacart removed it at one point and replaced it with a service fee that didn’t go to the shoppers but went to Instacart. We had to fight to get them to reinstate it. But when they did, they reinstated it at 5% instead of 10%. The other 5% remains a service fee for Instacart. In some areas that 5% is closer to 8%. And then in other markets for delivery orders that service fee is as much as 15%. And that’s on top of the item markups. You know, when the default tip is set to 5%, people tend to think that that’s the fair amount, the customary amount to tip for this kind of a service. 

All jobs deserve a living wage. If you can’t afford to pay the people who make it happen for you a living wage, then you don’t deserve to be in business.

Right now we’re getting the short end of the stick while Instacart makes money and it’s money that should be in our pockets right now. We’ll just keep getting louder and louder because we’ve got nothing to lose.

Errol: So how can folks support you? 

Robin: So we successfully registered to be a nonprofit. We have a website, it’s Gig Workers Collective.org. You can donate there, you can provide your information to get connected with us and be more aware of what we’re doing and how we’re organizing. You know, we’ve done a boycott, and we’ve done a protest, and we’ve done a walk off, we’ve asked customers to delete the app. We’re not just going to go away until things get better. So delete Instacart, do the curbside pickup, and tip when you can.

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