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How COVID-19 Exposed The Hard Questions About The Gig Economy

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Consumers are convinced. Wall Street is buoyant. Demand around the world for app-based services is booming, with entire nations stuck at home during COVID-19 lockdowns and the prospect of goods and services at their door with just a click. As the so-called “Gig Economy” spreads alongside the pandemic, society has struggled to keep up.

• Online sales in South Korea have grown by 17% this year, and 42% in food deliveries.

• The freelancer platform PeoplePerHour registered a 300% increase of users in March of this year in the UK, 329% jump in Spain, and 513% in Japan.

Upwork reported a 24% increase in signups over the summer.

Investors and founders of the likes of Doordash and AirBNB are cashing in, with the two companies IPOs hitting record highs and earning Wall Street approval for their respective market dominance. Still, the stock market is not the economy, and white-collar and blue-collar workers alike have been forced to turn to gig-work out of financial necessity — offering little in the way of social benefits or long-term prospects.

“I have to work twice as much to make half of what I was making to survive,” said Tyrita Franklin-Corbett, a former retail worker turned Instacart gig-shopper, to Reuters in October.

How it works: Rather than earning a regular wage, these apps pay for each “gig” completed. While it’s not uncommon that people turn to freelance work during periods of economic downturns, the health crisis presents a unique scenario in which freelance workers risk being exposed to the virus in order to get paid.

• In the UK, a recent survey by the Centre for Economic Performance (CEP) found that 78% of app workers thought their health was at risk while working.

Exploited & Exposed: The pandemic has exacerbated the vulnerabilities of millions of workers already in precarious financial situations and without a safety net. Deliverers are considered “essential,” but they don’t receive the same protections (both physical and economic) as other essential workers.

• With Uber Eats in France offering 10 euros to customers on three orders during lockdown, workers have accused the tech-giant of “promonavirus,” that is, using them as “cannon fodder,” to serve meals while everyone else stays at home, Le Monde reports.

• “We have no protection,” migrant food delivery rider Diego Franco in Australia recently told the Sydney Morning Herald.

• Already this year, 15 delivery workers in South Korea have died from “kwarosa,” literally “to die of overwork.” The gig-world is at its tipping point.

At a rally by Uber and Lyft drivers calling for basic employment rights in Los Angeles — Photo: Ringo Chiu/ZUMA Wire

Pushing back & shutting down: In the face of this harsh reality, gig workers have responded with work shutdowns, lawsuits and union organizing.

• In the U.S., thousands of Amazon workers have gone on strike in New York City after reports emerged that several employees had tested positive and still lack safety gear.

• The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB) won a lawsuit which accused the UK government of failing to extend health and safety protections such as PPE to gig workers.

• The Italian food delivery industry, Assodelivery, has threatened to protest in order to give legal status to relationships with workers.

• As a result of the increase in demand during the pandemic, Scottish workers created the Workers Observatory union to discuss difficulties and track data in order to “challenge conditions in self-employed and gig work.”

Fixing a fairer future: Ultimately, gig work has thrived until now on its lack of regulation. Yet the pandemic has clearly displayed the need for basic regulations, both for the workers and ultimately for the companies as well.

• La Stampa reports that Italy is attempting to strike a solution, where companies like Uber, Deliveroo, Glovo, JustEat will recognize workers as employees starting in 2021, earning a minimum wage of 10 euros per hour, along with overtime pay equal to 10%, 15% and 20% linked to following night work, holidays and bad weather.

• California recently passed Proposition 22, which seeks to provide contractors with health insurance and retirement benefits. The ballot initiative was funded by $200 million from Uber and its competitor Lyft, who presented it as a way to add some protections for its drivers while leaving them flexibility in when and how they work. Still the measure’s main point was to specifically exclude gig workers from basic health and retirement benefits of a new law. Californians overwhelmingly supported the proposition, passing it 58 to 42 %.

France is offering € 1,500 to self-employed entrepreneurs who have experienced a drop in turnover of at least 70% as a result of COVID-19. But some gig workers simply cannot afford to face this drop to begin with. For them, it’s even more crucial to keep working, even if it means extra hours and health risks.

The real takeaway? Critics have argued that these efforts are mainly face-saving measures that protect the platforms in the long run, and do little to address exploitation. In Europe, labor experts say that reforms that have long been driven by the rights of permanent employees must now focus on the broader status of “workers.” Others are pushing for the implementation of a universal basic income (UBI) to address the entire economic system. The pandemic has offered further proof that the Gig Economy is not going away. But it has also shown that it is built on a system of inequalities that, IPOs aside, are not sustainable in the long run.






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Local chef creates app to connect gig workers with hospitality jobs

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Connecting gig workers to hospitality jobs in Charleston is now easier than ever thanks to the app, Gigpro. It was created by a local chef, Ben Ellsworth, along with three others. The app lets anyone apply for and book jobs for just a single night at a time. It’s a fast and easy way to fill open shifts without committing to full employment with a business.

The hospitality industry is facing a detrimental shortage of workers with both back-of-house staff like line cooks and dishwashers as well as front-of-house staff like servers and bartenders.

The idea came to Ben Ellsworth, who’s been a chef in Charleston since 1998, as he stared at a pile of dishes in the Royal American kitchen during a shift when the dishwasher called out. He says the lightbulb switched on when he checked his cell phone.

“I got a notification on my phone that someone had booked my Airbnb and I said out loud ‘I wish he had booked to wash these dishes.’,” said Ellsworth.

That’s when Gigpro was born.

Nearly 150 Charleston businesses and over 2,000 workers have joined the platform since its initial release in late 2019. In the first month of beta testing, 36 gigs were booked and in the second month, 86 gigs were booked.

Now Ellsworth says around 200 gigs are posted to the platform each week.

There are only a few simple steps to set up Gigpro and begin picking up shifts. Download the free app, create a profile with a resume, fill out insurance information and add a payment method. A restaurant will post a shift with information like date, hours, and pay, then workers on the app can scroll through and apply for a job. If the employer finds a good fit for the night, the job will be booked. After a worker completes the job, payment is sent through the app two to three days later.

“Everybody that’s on the platform gets covered with occupational accident insurance,” explained Ellsworth. “Which takes the liability off the business and keeps the pro safe.”

He says the occupational accident insurance is about $0.38 per hour. Many gigs pay $15 to $30 an hour.

It’s a big help for employers working to fill shifts when employees call out or when staff is short.

Wild Dunes Resort on the Isle of Palms has been working with Gigpro for just over a year and recently has been booking workers most weekends.

“It’s a great tool to have in our toolkit,” said Manny Montes, the assistant director of HR at Wild Dunes Resort.

In some cases, at Wild Dunes and other businesses, workers have been asked to stick around.

“There’s actually two people that we connected with originally on the app that we’ve ended up offering positions to stay on board with us as actual employees,” said Montes.

Gigpro is a way to get some fast cash and help out businesses that are in dire need of staff.

“I would say right now that our biggest mission is to try and get more money in the pockets of the workforce in this industry. I’ve heard from multiple businesses that we’re working with that we’re kind for the only thing that’s moving the needle and getting help in the door,” said Ellsworth.

Gigpro is officially expanding to Nashville, TN and Charlotte, NC and Ellsworth hopes to add more “food eccentric cities” to the list soon.

For more about Gigpro, click here.

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Rep. McHenry introduces Gig Worker Equity Compensation Act

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U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry (R-NC) introduced legislation that would include the gig workforce in the category of workers who can benefit from equity compensation.

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The Gig Worker Equity Compensation Act (H.R. 2990) would help gig workers share in the economic resurgence while preserving their flexibility and independence.

“How people choose to work is changing. Our technology-driven economy is embracing this shift, Washington needs to keep up,” McHenry, the Republican leader on the House Financial Services Committee, said. “By giving these non-traditional workers access to equity compensation—just like traditional employees—we can ensure they benefit from the growth of the companies they are making successful. While Democrats attempt to stifle this growing sector of the workforce, my bill ensures they retain the flexibility they need while giving them the opportunity to grow wealth. This is a win for our capital markets, job creators, and gig workers.”

McHenry points out that about a quarter of the U.S. workforce participates in the gig economy or non-traditional work — whether as a rideshare driver, food delivery courier, or sharing their property through a platform like Airbnb. Further, about 10 percent of workers rely on alternative work arrangements for their primary source of income. These workers do not want to be bound by constraints like an office, set hours, or a traditional employer-employee relationship. This bill seeks to provide additional flexibility to support these workers.

In November 2020, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) voted to propose rules to provide equity compensation options for gig workers. McHenry welcomed this initiative and is committed to working with the SEC to implement his broader proposal.

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GigIndia to provide Rs 3 lakh insurance cover to active gig workers

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GigIndia, a B2B gig marketplace for on-demand work completion, will provide free COVID health insurance to its active gig workers covering up to Rs 3 lakh of medical expenses. Considering the adverse financial impact of COVID-19 on its gigger families, the Pune-headquartered firm in a release said that it is offering this insurance to active gig workers to make them feel relatively secure during these challenging times.

Moreover, the company is initiating efforts to ensure certified giggers on its platform continue receiving gigs (projects), thereby enabling a steady monthly income, it added.

“The COVID Health Insurance will ensure that medical costs are covered if any gig worker tests positive for COVID-19. We are also providing financial assistance to gig workers, which will help them with essential expenditure such as hospital charges, oxygen cylinders and ventilators, among others,” said Sahil Sharma, Co-founder & CEO, GigIndia.

Sharma said Rs 3 lakh covid health insurance will be given to thousands of active giggers on the company’s platform. In addition, the company has also set up an internal Rs 10 lakh covid relief fund for gig workers in need.

He further said that unlike full-time white/grey collar workers, giggers and grey collar part-time workers typically do not receive social security benefits and paid leave or access to health insurance.

According to Sharma, GigIndia is providing emergency loans for medical expenses, 100 per cent reimbursement of vaccination cost for all its employees and their family members, along with 14-days’ paid leave if an employee tests positive.

GigIndia said it empowers large enterprises to scale rapidly by providing a flexible workforce along with tech-enabled real-time tracking for work completion, remote customer onboarding, virtual customer support, recruitment on-demand, influencer marketing and field operations among others.

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