The gig economy has so far proved hard to define, hard to measure and hard to interpret. Some see it as part of a general shift of work towards less secure and more exploitative employment; others see it as creating a new form of flexible working that gives individuals new choices about how, when and where they work. The lack of definition and measurement has led to wildly different claims about its size and rate of expansion, with many surveys and studies notable for their lack of comparability. It is small wonder that policy-makers and others are struggling to come to terms with the phenomenon and what it might mean for employment practice, employment regulation and the quality of work.
However, even if those who do this sort of work because they have no choice are a minority, these are not trivial percentages. They show that there is a degree of mismatch between the sort of jobs people want and the sort of jobs the labour market is delivering. People work in these ways for a variety of reasons and it does not mean that they are enthusiastic or content about all aspects. Even for those in them out of choice, there are some significant drawbacks, such as availability of work and the security of income, where many gig economy workers feel at a disadvantage.
The decision by the Government to launch a major review of modern working practices in November 2016 is a recognition that new technology and business models can blur the lines between employers’ freedoms and obligations and individuals’ rights and responsibilities. These developments have brought a new dimension to many long standing challenges to the UK’s regulatory framework in managing the sometimes grey area between self-employment and regular employment with a single employer. That framework, largely based on the traditional employee–employer relationship, may no longer be entirely fit for purpose.
This research, which is designed to help inform the government- commissioned review being led by RSA Chief Executive Matthew Taylor, explores the experiences of people engaged in the gig economy and their views on what it is like to work in this way. It is particularly focused on gig economy participants who trade their time and skills through the Internet and online platforms, providing a service to a third party as a form of paid employment.