Gig economy given thumbs down by workers

gig economy worker Richard Murray

Since Richard Murray lost his job as a strategy consultant in February last year, he has churned through many “gig economy” jobs including being an Uber driver, private tutor, freelance researcher, copy-writer and web developer.

The 29-year-old from western Sydney is part of the new generation of workers for whom performing flexible and diversified tasks for short-term engagements using online apps including Freelancer, Upworthy and Airtasker is now par for the course. They are part of a growing number of workers either disenchanted with the rigidity of full-time work or unable to secure permanent employment. Murray says gig economy workers have to be “generalists” in order to meet the demands of finding regular work.

“Working in the gig economy can be very empowering as you are responsible for your own brand. Despite this, my overall experience was one of frustration and insecurity,” he says. “It has proved difficult to earn more than a basic income due to the intermittency of work and level of competition, particularly in work that can be done remotely, and the ‘switching costs’ between contracts/gigs.” A 2016 CSIRO report predicted more than 1 million Australian workers now operate as independent contractors juggling between temporary or contract jobs. More than 4 million Australians, or 32 per cent of the workforce, now freelance regularly. A recent Intuit trends report predicted that “in the US alone, contingent jobs will exceed 40 per cent of the workforce by 2020”.

For Sam Kurikawa, 39, from Melbourne’s northern suburbs, her experience has been fraught with issues including not getting paid properly or being expected to work for very poor rates at unpredictable hours. “I could never make a liveable income through gig work. It is supplemental pocket money at best,” she tells MyCareer.

But others report more positive experiences – particularly when using the gig economy to supplement their lifestyles rather than relying on it for their primary income. Lisa Hodgkins, a 38-year-old mother of two from Neutral Bay in NSW, says that the gig economy has helped her as a parent to make ends meet. She and her husband rent out their garage using Spacer and they pet sit using a site called Mad paws.

“We use it purely as an extra income following our second child being born and me wanting to spend more time at home with the children. Renting out our spare space is minimum effort and pet sitting and walking is lots of fun that fits in to my schedule as a mum. We use the gig economy towards bills and holidays, not full-time work,” she says.

However for many Australians testing the waters of the gig economy, the results rarely seem to meet their expectations of flexible lifestyles and reliable employment. “If the gig economy lived up to the promise of freedom and empowerment of workers it would be an overwhelmingly positive thing,” says Sam Kurikawa “But unfortunately at present I see the gig economy increasing inequality, creating a mostly powerless group of desperate people in a race to the bottom,” she says.

This story first appeared in the Saturday Age

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