The gig economy isn’t a monster. It’s a complex beast

Published on: Thu, 31 Jan 2019
By: Lorna, CEO, redwigwam

If recent media coverage is to be believed, the gig economy has taken advantage of workers around the UK and evaded employment laws relating to pay, rights, and conditions. But look past the headlines and I’d like to argue that there’s much more to the temporary work market than the few offenders who place commission above conscience.

The temporary work market was not created yesterday. Nor were “gigs” – fixed fees paid per job – born in an app store. Yet it is true that the concept of flexible, short-term work has seen incredible growth through technological advancements in recent years. As consumers have become accustomed to instantaneous access to products and services at the touch of a screen, so the industries that cater for them have worked ever harder to meet demand with a ready supply of providers.

This in itself is not a problem. But what has come to light in the last few years is that such fierce competition has created a sharp race to the bottom. The result has been a keen focus on profit margins from many of the gig gatekeepers while the service providers themselves have been squeezed further and further.

Thankfully, it is not my responsibility to defend the practices of those high-profile businesses that have come under such intense media scrutiny. What I do believe, however, is that it is vital we don’t throw a blanket over an entire sector when discussing the model of temporary work. That would be to ignore what is a burgeoning and hugely beneficial part of the economy and society today.

Pointing our moral compass in the right direction

What we do know from recent research is that of the 7 million people who are currently active in the temporary work market, 5 million of those choose to be there. There is an important distinction to be made between those who feel they have no other option than to work to a certain model and those who actively pursue opportunities that afford them a particular lifestyle.

The vast majority of workers listed on our books at redwigwam fall into one of three categories – students, return-to-work parents, and those who are recently retired.

Understanding the reasons why these demographics might choose flexible, part-time, or seasonal work opportunities is not hard, so I won’t go into detail here. What I do wish to clarify is that flexibility and versatility should not be confused with a lowering of standards; nor should it absolve employers of their responsibility towards treating workers fairly and ethically.

So, who is employing these workers?

At redwigwam, the short answer is “Us”.

We act as the employer for every worker on our books. We understand our responsibility for the welfare of those staff we place into work and for those businesses that hire staff through us. Our commitment is to make this an ethical and efficient process. Contrary to popular misconception, the two do not have to be mutually exclusive.

We are driven to do the right thing and we want to be able to offer workers fantastic opportunities in fulfilling roles that fit around their lifestyle. We do not want them to sign away their rights to fair pay or working conditions under the guise of self-employment. Nor do we expect them to circumvent employment law to become part of our team. This doesn’t benefit them and we know 100% that it doesn’t benefit the hirers we work with in the long term.

We are committed to providing our hirers with workers who are happy, proactive, dedicated, and incentivised to perform to their potential. How on earth would we do that if we asked them to function below minimum wage or expect them to forego National Insurance and holiday pay?

We understand many of the frustrations around the gig economy where there are cases of people not doing the “right thing”. However, our model is driven by our moral compass so that our hirers can do, too.

By taking the administrative tasks away from our clients and by employing our workers directly, issues of payroll, paying National Insurance, and covering holiday pay are taken care of. In return, we work with hirers who share our belief in good treatment and quick pay.

Where hirers have rated workers 4 or 5 out of 5 – they are required to grade staff upon completion of work – we ensure that workers are paid within 24 hours of their timesheet being approved. After all, prompt payment is a suitable reward for good performance.

Being able to handpick staff and re-hire individuals who performed well on previous occasions actually helps to ensure that your flexible workforce becomes refined over time. This is in stark contrast to many gig platforms where the self-employed service providers race to accept work or slash prices to outbid each other on a job.

Does employment mean that redwigwam workers don’t have the same freedom as self-employed gig economy workers?

Absolutely not.

Our booking system for job roles is every bit as flexible, intuitive, and instant as any of the leading apps on the market that facilitate gig work. Hirers can list vacancies 24/7 and workers can be matched with roles with the same speed and efficiency, working around their own commitments and working preferences.

Love them or loathe them, the big names in gig work have helped to move resource management forward at a phenomenal rate. So, everyone from consumers to big corporations now want to be able to have data analysis and other benefits at their fingertips.

We are bringing advanced functionality to the market, which enables shifts to be booked, timesheets to be submitted, wages to be monitored and even worker whereabouts to be tracked, courtesy of our app.

There are many of our workers who are return-to-work mums and are only available during school or childcare hours. Similarly, we work with people who have full-time jobs in offices but choose to carry out market research work such as mystery shopper tasks during their lunch hour.

Roles can run from an hour to a year, with workers able to choose how and when they engage with our platform. And many of our workers have roles in 4 or 5 different businesses, with the security that they receive payment and are registered solely with ourselves – a much simpler process.

As for our hirers, being able to track flexible work requirements across days, weeks, seasons and even years can help them plan for the future and monitor outgoings.

Having such a dashboard also helps to ensure transparency – a key point for us. Agency and gig work has historically operated within grey areas where payment terms, referral fees, and even information on personnel can be hard to access.

On this matter, I refer back to our moral compass as a business. We 100% believe that it is in the best interest of our hirers to know who their workers are; to have full visibility on what they are and are not capable of; and how the money they pay us is allocated – from salary to NI to holiday pay to our market-leading booking fee of 9%.

In this way, employers can enjoy peace of mind: safe in the knowledge that they are doing the right thing by their temporary staff. Yes, they are enjoying the ability to flex their resources and scale up or down; and they are avoiding the hassle of staff-related administration and HR work. But they also know that corners are not being cut in the process of getting people into their workplace.

We feel this balance is a crucial one to strike. And the hirers we work with typically find that our systems help them to streamline their own processes. For example, if a hirer doesn’t sign off a timesheet, we will send them a reminder that payment is due. Not only does this protect the worker and reward those who have worked effectively (incentivising them to perform well in the future), it also allows the hirer’s accounts team to keep an easy handle on their cashflow.

Satisfied with the worker you’ve taken on? Give them a 4 or 5 out of 5 and they will be matched with you again when you next need to increase your resources.

What about temporary workers who want a permanent role?

One of the criticisms aimed at “gig economy” work is that once self-employed, it is difficult for a worker to move into more traditional employment when the right time comes.

What we are finding, however, is that many employers who start with temporary staff to increase their resources eventually require a larger in-house workforce as their organisation grows.

At redwigwam we are only too happy to facilitate this. After all, there are times when student workers graduate and want permanent roles. Or where parents find themselves child-free during office hours and decide the time is right to further their careers.

We call this process “Temp to Perm” and we are fully equipped to help to facilitate that transition, at an affordable fixed price. Unlike self-employed gig workers who need to close off their accounts and deal with their own tax matters, we can simply work with a hirer to move workers off our own books and on to their own.

Think the temporary work market is a monstrosity?

It is no surprise that there is an air of scepticism around the gig economy and the dangers of transient work. It is true that flexible, temporary work isn’t for everybody.

Yet I’d simply point sceptics towards the huge number of reviews and testimonials on Feefo, Google and Facebook to see how our workers feel about the model we have created.

You might just find that temporary work does have a conscience after all.

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