The gig economy has become the new piñata of regulators and unionists alike. I am not going to pretend it works for everyone or for every profession. However, it is indisputable that gig work suits some people, particularly those least likely to get work. Here is how.
It is not easy to get work. For each new job opening, there is a new cover letter to draft, another 30-minute application, another anxiety-inducing interview, with no guarantee of employment. Finding a job requires time and energy which not everyone has. If you are an honours student smashing out a thesis, you hardly have time to fire off dozens of applications. If you are a stay-at-home parent supporting several children, the situation is similar.
To score even a retail job, employers ask for experience. There is the “permission paradox”—that more and more young people cannot get jobs, because they are inexperienced, and cannot get experience because they cannot get jobs.
Work access is not any easier if you find yourself in a minority group. Employment discrimination is still commonplace in waged labour. Unconscious bias can often determine whether you get selected.
One of the major benefits of the gig economy is instant income. Take Uber or Deliveroo, where you can sign up in minutes and find opportunities to make money, picking up someone from the airport or delivering them KFC. The unemployed and underemployed are not left penniless while they wait for businesses to get back to them.
While wage work provides income security, it requires regular time commitments some people cannot make. Students have exams, children have school holidays—one’s free time fluctuates throughout the year. Gig work allows people to structure their work around their life demands, choose when their work times and workloads.
Not everyone wants to have their projects and timetables dictated to them in a large firm. Consequently, we have seen the rise of freelance platforms for services and consultancy, where people work project-by-project by their own volition.
I agree gig work is not suitable for all work. Casualisation can certainly be harmful. But we cannot ignore the indisputable benefits the gig economy provides. We need a smorgasbord of different work options, and if gig work suits some people, why should we disallow it?
This article was published in the 2018 fourth edition of Farrago Magazine, the University of Melbourne Student Union’s magazine, as part of “For and Against”, a segment whereby two writers argue 400 words for or against a certain topic.