Lessons from Uber – how the gig economy is giving flexible working a bad name


At Sensée, the flexibility to work from home or a place of one’s choosing lies at the heart of what we do as a company. Therefore it’s disheartening to see exploitative gig economy businesses gnaw away at the fabric of the flexible working industry, its many well-intentioned businesses having been left bruised in the aftermath. Such is the damning verdict by the British public that our 2,000-strong survey on attitudes around the gig economy has found that only 27% of Brits would feel happy to work “gigs.” It points to a desperate need for the industry to change public perceptions if it wants to establish itself as a sustainable alternative to traditional employment models.

Earlier this year, the TUC pointed the public to the clauses in gig economy contracts that have been written to scare employees against speaking out in any way about appalling work conditions. Exploitative loopholes extricate gig companies from sick pay or pensions contributions while a massive question mark hangs over how much flexitime workers are actually entitled to.

What’s also frustrating is the plain refusal to change. When we invited some household gig names to participate in an industry roundtable in the summer, they declined. Uber has shown the same hubris and reluctance to improve; the only reason it softened its combative tone recently was that the mayor and TFL backed the app into a corner.

What needs to change?

Despite our grievances, there is a general consensus in the industry that the gig economy is here to stay. While certain businesses and consumers are the big beneficiaries of the gig economy, we need to do more to ensure that all parties benefit. This means gig workers need to be given base-level rights to be able to enjoy their work-life with as much dignity as a permanent employee and be compensated for the flexibility that benefits businesses so much. One-sided flexibility must end.

Secondly, there must be a greater emphasis on the quality and nature of work offered by organisations. It will be crucial to provide “Good Work” that gives individuals fair and decent rights and protection with scope for fulfilment and development.

And finally, it’s important that businesses, which are behaving ethically and providing decent benefits to their employees – whether they are full or part-time –  aren’t being punished or at a commercial disadvantage to those businesses that aren’t. Making a profit through exploitation just isn’t right – for anyone.

Flexible working is here to stay – we just need to be on the forefront of nipping undesirable, anti-competitive, exploitative behaviour in the bud.

*Steve Mosser is CEO of home-based customer services company Sensée.

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