In today’s economy, a significant number of workers are foregoing the corporate grind and opting for freelance work instead. Whether the move to become a free agent is based on choice or economic necessity, more people are now finding opportunities outside the realm of traditional jobs with established companies. The days of landing that dream job and keeping it until retirement are all but gone and freelancing has become a viable option for many individuals, for some it is the only viable option. Contract work allows freelancers to set their own work schedules, manage their own work loads and work independently. Many freelancers would not have it any other way.
The Gig Economy
In some fields, such as writing, editing and graphic design, the gig economy has existed for years. However, due to the growth in popularity of several digital freelancing platforms, such as Upwork.com and Freelancer.com, the contingent workforce can be readily matched with companies and entrepreneurs that need short term or specialised workers.
Digital platforms enable contract workers to find more assignments, market their talents, manage various clients and accept secure payments. These platforms also provide an escrow system where the hiring party places all or part of the freelancer’s payment for a project in an escrow account to ensure the contract worker receives compensation for their work. The platforms also allow hiring companies to review and evaluate the work of the freelancer upon conclusion of the project, similar to the Amazon review system.
Though contract workers have offered freelance professional services for decades, specialised gig platforms are emerging and making a huge impact on the status quo. Here in Australia, Airtasker and Sidekicker pair contractors with household and domestic jobs (like lawn mowing, cleaning and furniture building), in addition to the full raft of professional services (like accounting, design, web build – you name it). Even child care: CareForKid.com.au will care for your kid/s using contract workers.
Uber burst onto the Aussie scene in 2014 with an app that matches independent drivers with people who need a ride. Uber expanded rapidly to become a global force within just a few years. By the end of 2015, Uber aims to have 20,000 drivers in Australia who use their own vehicles to transport passengers.
The growth of Uber has disrupted the heavily regulated limousine and taxi industry, and has generated considerable resistance in many cities, both here and abroad. In fact, in the US, Uber has been deemed illegal in several jurisdictions.
With the proliferation of these digital gig platforms, we’re likely to continue seeing a marked increase in the number of freelancers leaving the traditional workforce in the coming years. Without doubt, the gig economy is here to stay.
So, what will the rise of the freelance economy mean for the future of work?
Protection for Contractors
Disputes surrounding the proliferation of Uber highlight the potential conflicts between traditional employment frameworks and the contingent work economy. Freelance contracts can be somewhat unregulated, and though many contract workers enjoy the independence and freedom, they can also forfeit the security and benefits offered by a traditional job.
Traditional employers provide a wide range of benefits to workers. Benefits, such as workers compensation, superannuation, holiday and sick days are provided to employees via their primary employer. However, independent contractors must find and purchase their own insurance. They have no paid holiday or sick days, and have to make their own arrangements for superannuation.
In some countries, like Canada and Germany, policy makers have created the ‘Dependent Contractor’ class for contingent workers who depend on one employer as their sole source of income. The Dependent Contractor classification provides additional protections and benefits for the contractor. As the gig economy grows across the globe, the need for worker protections becomes more pronounced. Policy makers must decide whether worker protections, such as minimum wage laws and certain employment benefits, will apply to the freelance worker.
There is no doubt that the freelance economy will continue to grow in the coming years. With policies in place that protect the worker, freelancing is increasingly looking like a viable career path that allows many more people to pursue their professional and life dreams –
on their own terms.