2007 - 2021

Myths of the Gig Economy

Pre-car-i-ous \pri-‘kar-e-as\ adj [L precarius obtained by entreaty, uncertain—more at PRAYER] (1646)
1: depending on the will or pleasure of another
2: dependent on uncertain premises: DUBIOUS
3 a: dependent on chance circumstances. Unknown conditions, or uncertain develpoments
b: charactarized by a lack of security or stability that threatens with danger


There’s a strange thing going on today as Matthew Taylor – doyen of the glossy but vacuous Royal Society of Arts (and former Blair advisor) – launches a non-binding report which attempts (and fails) to protect workers rights – amid huge fanfare. One commentator described the status of ‘dependent contractor’ he has created out of the ether  as “feeble & add another layer of unnecessary complexity”.

There’s no protection against widespread minimum wage abuses across many sectors nor any halt to zero hours contracts.

Solicitor Stephen Cavalier has said:

“This new status is unclear and unnecessary. Recent Employment Tribunal rulings have required prominent gig economy employers to pay their workers basic benefits, like sick pay and holiday leave, and the national living wage. What is needed is for these rights and responsibilities to be clearly set out in legislation. Companies have used the existing legislation to avoid their obligations by exploiting grey areas in the law. The leaked report is disappointing. It suggests the government will not take strong action, but simply leave it to those same firms to deliver improvements in corporate culture and employment rights. Experience shows that this will not happen. Of particular concern is the absence of a ban on zero-hours contracts. These contracts can and should be banned – just like they have been in New Zealand with no detriment to a worker’s flexibility. There is no excuse for employers passing on all risks to workers.”

The findings of the Government-commissioned report, which were widely leaked in advance, calls for (but can’t enforce) additional protections for those employed by the likes of Uber and Deliveroo.

The general secretary of the TUC union organisation, Frances O’Grady, said: “I worry that many gig economy employers will be breathing a sigh of relief this morning. “From what we’ve seen, this review is not the game-changer needed to end insecurity and exploitation at work.

“It doesn’t look like the report will shift the balance of power in the modern workplace.”

The Taylor Report doesn’t address the mass exploitation and generalised insecurity of modern work, and acts instead as a kind of groovy ameliorative soundtrack to Theresa May’s re-boot.

We wanted to lay out some of the new terms that are being use to describe new forms of work. Some of these terms come from the French, Italian and Spanish workers resistance movements. They’re not being pretentious, they’re just European terms.

What do we mean by the precariat, flex workers and other terms?

Precariat – derived from the latin verb precor, PRECARIUTY literally means being forced to beg and part to keep one’s job.
Flex Workers – loosely describes the social reality of millions of service and information workers working under non-standard day, weekly and monthly schedules, without secure tenure nor social benefits.
Cognitaire (or Brain Workers) – somebody performing cognitive work – that is, working primarily for a salary or on a  contract by ceding to the employer the whole product/creation of his/her language and knowledge skill. Common in media, research, education. Work is often characterised by having no definable work hours and being always ‘on call’ though email and mobile. Often tend to have individual market owed but little collective bargaining power and often socially isolated.
Unnecessariat – coined by Anne Amnesia she describes the people left behind by this entire process. She writes: “Here’s the thing: from where I live, the world has drifted away. We aren’t precarious, we’re unnecessary. The money has gone to the top. The wages have gone to the top. The recovery has gone to the top. And what’s worst of all, everybody who matters seems basically pretty okay with that. The new bright sparks, cheerfully referred to as “Young Gods” believe themselves to be the honest winners in a new invent-or-dieeconomy, and are busily planning to escape into space or acquire superpowers, and instead of worrying about this, the talking heads on TV tell you its all a good thing- don’t worry, the recession’s over and everything’s better now, and technology is TOTES AMAZEBALLS!”

What’s the difference between the digital economy, the gig economy and the shared economy?

This is a simple but useful explanation by Michel Bauwens – on the difference between the ‘gig economy’ and a genuine ‘sharing economy’ …


The Taylor Report does nothing to address or explain the generalised state of insecurity, no does it offer practical solutions to this condition.

For the outsourced, the off shored, the downsized, the downgraded and the impoverished this will be a disappointment.

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  1. Wul says:

    It’s not just the workers who suffer, it all of us.

    It all looks quite funky on the outside; flexible “gig” workers delivering your parcels cheaply “on demand” etc.

    The reality is that these workers will be paying very little income tax, because they don’t earn enough. Their “employer” or gang-master (what is the correct term?) will be paying no National Insurance or pension contributions on behalf of staff, because he has no “staff”.

    The net result is almost nothing going back into our society to fund the very infrastructure (roads, education for workers, health care, police etc) which the “gig economy” depends on in order to do business.

    The whole “business” is a slow withering of citizen’s prosperity and the state’s ability to function.

    (I use the word “business” advisedly. If your operation relies on cheap, always-available labour, for which you take no responsibility, do not pay until you, yourself have collected profit from their labour and you do not contribute to the infrastructure on which it all depends, then its not really a business at all.)

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