The Gig economy and the freelance movement have been billed as bringing much-needed disruption to labour markets across Europe, as well as giving more choice and control to individuals. Furthermore, many feel that this development should combat vested interests and increase efficiencies.
This trend has been fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic and the rise of remote work. Some analysts speak of the “Great Resignation” while the message is clear that the world of work is changing. The traditional 9 to 5 employment arrangement – selling your time to one employer five days per week – is becoming both less attractive and less needed. More people are demanding increased flexibility with regard to where, when and how they work.
At the same time, worker rights need to be respected and protected. Against this background, the European Commission’s proposal for a Directive on Platform Economy Worker Rights was adopted in December 2021.
It is vital that politicians listen to the voice of freelancers and put in place a legislative framework which meets their needs, facilitates earning opportunities and does not saddle them with excessive administration.
We seldom hear from those who are actually freelancing and doing Gig work, therefore the new Future of Work Study 2022 is interesting. This highlights a number of novel opinions and trends, based on surveys and interviews with freelancers from across Europe.
Contrary to the popular image of freelancers being poor, uneducated workers who need protection, this study finds that the majority of Gig workers are well-educated. 60% have a university degree, according to the study, and freelancers carry out a wide variety of jobs across a vast and a varied number of sectors from consulting and IT work to health care, construction and music.
The study also underlines that many freelancers are earning well above the average European salary of €2,570: 21% are earning €2-5,000 each month while 10% are earning over €5,000. These earnings are a mix of primary and supplementary incomes for Gig workers and this study shines a light on the diversity which exists.
Furthermore, 80% of freelancers state that this is a lifestyle choice since they are seeking flexibility, variety and the opportunity to create something, while 90% say that they are happy with being a freelancer. Given this context, it is of utmost importance that decision-makers and politicians do not create a legislative framework which forces all workers into an outdated 9 to 5 model that is not desired.
Diluting the influence of the established cartel
In practical terms, the future of work will most likely bear witness to a breaking down of the wall between traditional, full-time work and freelancing. The two separate entities will merge over time and the result will be a blended workforce which will need to be facilitated legally, technologically and from a policy perspective. Both employers and workers will also need to be educated as to how they should navigate this new reality.
There is a risk, however, that the debate on platform worker and freelancer rights is hijacked by big industry associations and trade unions who are more interested in protecting their power and influence, rather than helping freelancers, looking after their rights and seeing efficiency gains.
The relevance of employer organizations and trade unions is limited for freelancers and the new economy as a whole. With this in mind, it is important that new legislation reflects the views of the workers and entrepreneurs who are actually affected, rather than vested interests who are wedded to the status quo.