That Matthew Taylor’s Good Work report set out to ensure that ‘all work in the UK economy should be fair and decent with realistic scope for development and fulfilment,’ I do not dispute. Anyone with a decent human spirit would agree that having access to fairly paid work, good working conditions and a living wage is a human right that should abound in the 21st Century. Sadly, though, when it comes to the Sharing Economy or Gig Economy the Good Work Report, simply isn’t good enough.
Here are 5 reasons why:
The Sharing Economy or Gig Economy needs to be clearly differentiated from other types of work. It’s flexible, entrepreneurial and comes with it’s own set of risks and advantages. It epitomises the new world of work, enabled by digital technologies, very much of the 21st Century and of the future, but it’s not for everyone. Those who are interested in work in it or who are already working in it, should know exactly what it means and what it does not mean. It is not the same as having a traditional job and therefore should not be misunderstood or treated as such.
The relationship between someone working in the Gig Economy and the platform is very different to that of an employer and employee or even a contractor and contractee. A gig worker is actually a micro-entrepreneur that takes advantage of flexible working and, as many gig workers that I have interviewed the world over have told me, enjoy the fact that they can choose when, how and how much they work. In short, they choose this work as they want to be their own boss. The reality of course, is that along with the decision to work in this way comes risk. Risk as the micro-entrepreneur that you will generate enough revenue, risk of instability and risk that if you are sick or unable to work that you won’t be protected.
Typically, when an entrepreneur takes the risk and sets up a business, there is the opportunity of a return on that investment. In the Sharing Economy, however most platforms do not enable those who deliver their services to benefit from the growth of their businesses; in other words, despite the platform’s success and service is entirely dependent on the human assets of these ‘workers’ or micro-entrepreneurs, the ‘workers’ themselves, although they share in the risk, do not share the profits.
Platform Cooperatives share the value they create with the users they depend on. In the Sharing Economy, it should be a win-win. Fairmondo, for example, launched in Germany in 2013 is a digital, co-operative version of eBay, where sellers on the platform are also its owners; Timefounder is a Barcelona based business equity split system where you develop projects with others that you then collaboratively own; Peerby is an Amsterdam based, crowdfunded, peer-to-peer goods sharing platform that is set up as a B Corp with users and employees as the major shareholders. Sharing Economy businesses such as Uber and Deliveroo should do the same. Rather than calling on these new models of business to operate in traditional ways by paying ‘benefits’ to ‘workers’, they should share the advantages of the risks taken by the micro-entrepreneurs – the drivers, hosts, gig workers etc. and share the advantages e.g. through platform cooperative models, B Corps or profit shares. Ultimately then, the users and workers without whom Uber, Deliveroo and others couldn’t survive, not only share the risk, but share the rewards as the businesses grow.
The Sharing Economy is causing the biggest societal shift since the Industrial Revolution and as the world of work undergoes significant disruption, any solutions require equally creative thinking and action. For the Good Work Report to be good enough for workers, employers, contractors, contractees, communities, families, businesses (of all sizes) and for society at large, we need some good, creative thinking and practice that reflects the world we live in now and the world of the future.