In Conclusion, the gig economy does present a double-edgedsword as it offers flexibility to some individuals, however the extent to whichthe gig economy and zero-hour contracts are beneficial depends on theindividual and their distinct lifestyles and situations. For some people suchas students the idea of choosing when and how many hours they would like towork fits in with their circumstances perfectly, however for others who requiremore stable employment and have dependants the insecure flexible employmentplaces them in vulnerable situations.
Although many would argue that people havethe choice to enter such labour markets in reality the way in which the economyand society has developed over the last 20 years and the rise of “precariousemployment” means power lies in the hands of large corporations and notindividuals. Capitalist societies and neoliberalism principles have led tobusinesses focusing on competitive advantage and increase in shareholder wealthbut at the cost of employees. Many workers in the gig economy and on zero-hourcontracts are in such positions not through choice but because of economic andsocietal pressures that has made them become dependent on precarious forms ofwork. Therefore, large corporations and the government largely benefit from thegig economy and zero-hour contracts and for those working within such labourmarkets the benefits are questionable.
According to Karl Marx, the capitalist society we reside inat the institutional level the interests of the government and corporations”collude” because their shared goal is “profit maximisation” (Blewitt, 2017). The”shareholder primacy theory” argues that businesses want to reduce labour costsso that they can increase revenue and profits and maximise shareholder returnregardless of the impact this has on other stakeholders such as employees(Stout, 2002). The gig economy helps to achieve this through the”commodification” of labour where businesses have the control to use zero-hourcontracts and gig economy policies which are determined by the government totheir advantage e.
g. by outsourcing and only paying for hours worked with noworker rights (Blewitt,2017). Such labour market policies allow for thecapitalist society to function and takes away any form of control, choice andflexibility from employees.
Uber using psychological techniques such as”ratings and non-cash rewards” motivates drivers to work “harder and longer”but only Uber benefits from this through increased financial returns (Scheiber,2017). However, it can also be argued that the rise in self-employment throughthe gig economy may one day “overtake the public sector” as gig economy workerscan become a “powerful economic and political force” (Lynn,2016). The extent towhich this is possible will depend on whether jobs within the gig economy andzero-hour contracts truly provide flexibility and choice to workers or if it’sjust portrayed in such a way for capitalism to continue to grow (Blewitt,2017).Neoliberalism ideology and globalisation also led to “deregulationand privatisation of markets” where the “economy shifted frommanufacturing-based to information-based” (Kalleberg, 2009, pp.
3), this alsomeant that power was now in the hands of employers and not workers and therewas a dramatic shift towards precarious employment. Kalleberg (2009) definesprecarious work as “employment that is unpredictable, uncertain and risky”(pp.2).
Precarious work tends to involve contingent labour or low skilledmanual work and is “gift wrapped” around the gig economy as majority of thoseworking in the gig economy have come from industries that required manualskills such as the automotive industry and coal mines, which due tode-industrialisation have now been relocated from western countries to low wagecountries in Asia (Kalleberg, 2009). This leaves many people in situationswhere they have no other viable options but to accept low skilled jobs withinthe gig economy that are usually on a zero-hour contract basis as they do nothave the skills for many permanent service level jobs, and therefore become dependenton the gig economy for work. Many Uber drivers are an example of this as theytend to be “ethnic minority men who are the sole earners and have only everparticipated in manual labour” (Field and Forsey, 2017). The lack ofopportunities for full time permanent jobs for these drivers and theavailability of gig economy work that UBER, Hermes and Deliveroo provide is theonly way forward for them. The issues of choice and flexibility within the gigeconomy and zero-hour contracts therefore raises the question as to who reallybenefits from such labour market strategies? Those on zero-hour contracts who havedependants sometimes face having to work even when they are sick or have anysort of personal events because they always have that uncertainty of when theywill receive more hours to work (Parkinson,2017). Students arevictims of this because they may not be able to always fit in the requests ofthe company with their studies especially during the exam period but still havefees and other costs to maintain so have no choice but to take on the work.Furthermore, as workers in the gig economy are classified as “self-employed”they have no worker rights such as “holiday pay, sickness pay, right to receivethe national minimum wage or any protection against unfair dismissal” (Wilson,2017).
Workers in thegig economy to some extent can choose when to work, for example with Uber theycan logoff the app so are not receiving ride requests, but also have the optionto work for more than one company at a time by “offering their services to severalwork on-demand apps” such as Uber and Deliveroo which implies an element of”choice and flexibility” (Healy et al, 2017). However, it can be argued thatthe way in which these jobs are designed by large corporations means that”psychological manipulation is used to coordinate workers” (Healy et al, 2017,pp.233). For Uber this requires drivers to be flexible when demand is highwhich may be early mornings, evenings or weekends and therefore the element offlexibility on the individual is taken away (Parkinson, 2017). For individualswho have greater responsibilities such as family dependants or where they arethe sole earner the flexibility and perceived choice with zero-hour and gigeconomy work places them in a vulnerable position. The rise of “neo-liberalism”and de-industrialisation in the 1980’s led to the development of the gigeconomy (Blewitt,2017) where work and wages are now less stable, and benefitsof working have been reduced (Healy, Nicholson and Pekarek,2017). Therefore,for people with families who need the security of having permanent work andreceiving fixed wages, working in the gig economy and the flexibility isbecoming increasingly risky for them.
In the case of Uber the “over-supply” ofdrivers means that “in order to make ends meet and gain more rides workers haveto spend hours driving the streets while awaiting orders” (Field andForsey,2017) this has a negative impact on their work-life balance and due tothe insecurity of their job which is based around “easy to hire and easy tofire” they have to accept the work they do get or face repercussions such asnot being “given any work or receiving a fine” (Behr,2017).This therefore leadsus to question the idea that workers in the gig economy have flexibility andpower to choose their working hours or if in reality they have no choice.Personal context plays an important factor in whether thegig economy is beneficial and provides flexibility to workers or not. It can beargued that millennials are the “beneficiaries and victims” of the gig economyand zero hour contracts because it offers them the flexibility to work aroundtheir studies and choose when and how many hours they would like to work(Parkinson, 2017).Uber in their research found that people choose to work withthe company so that they have more control and around “11% of drivers in the USare students”, with this number rising every year (Uber Newsroom, 2015). Thisis because some students do not have many dependants or major financialresponsibilities and therefore the gig economy works to their advantage.
Similarly,for individuals who have been working up until the age of 50 and above zero-hourcontracts and work in the gig economy can be beneficial for them as it can offera “flexible transition from full-time work to retirement” (Monaghan,2017). However,the flexibility and value of the gig economy and zero-hour contracts does notapply equally to everyone in society. The gig economy is a “labour market that is characterised byshort-term contracts and freelance work, rather than permanent jobs” (Wilson,2017). Work in the gig economy includes “crowd work” which is work that iscompleted via the internet and, “work on-demand via apps” where apps managetraditional jobs such as “transport, cleaning and admin work” (De Stefano,2015, pp.2). Whereas in zero-hour contracts the employer “is not obliged toprovide any minimum working hours and the worker is not obliged to accept anyworking hours” (Acas,2017).
The changing context of work means thatcontemporary organisations are based on “neo-liberal global economic thinking”(Wilkinson et al 2017, pp.9), where due to an increase in external competitionorganisations have adopted changes such as “downsizing, delayering” andbecoming more flexible (Nolan, 2011). Contemporary human resource literaturehas focused on the impact of the gig economy and zero-hour contracts on societyand organisations.
This essay will draw upon the literature to criticallyanalyse that the gig economy presents a “double edged sword” and offersflexibility. However, flexibility and the extent to which it is valuable meansdifferent things for people in the gig economy depending on their individualcircumstances. I will also question the notion of flexibility for workers andwho really benefits from such labour market incentives.