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The Gig Economy- Society's Festering sore

The Gig Economy has far reaching ruinous consequences for low paid workers, the economy and society as a whole if the unjust practice is not rectified.

Self Employed Workers

In 2001 there were 3.3 million, in 2017 this has risen to 4.8 million. An easy way for employers to recruit casual workers.

Source: Office for National Statistics

Zero Hour Contracts

In 2014 there were 624,000, by 2019 this had risen to 974,000. Companies use this to reduce labour costs and expand or contract the labour force at will.

Source: Office for National Statistics

Britain’s dramatic decline from the world’s manufacturing powerhouse to a third-rate service sector-based economy has been echoed by the emasculation of its workforce.

Whereas as recently as thirty years ago, many people retired from stable employment held since leaving school, Britain’s workforce now faces an uncertain future with the increasing adoption of debilitating zero hour or self-employment contracts by avaricious corporations.

As we enter the early years of the 21st Century, we are haunted by the ghosts of 19th Century Iron and Coal master’s unfettered capitalism and its remorseless dogma of profit. The spectre of uncertain employment stalks Britain’s workforce from manual workers to professional classes.

The watershed Thatcher Administration espousing a Monetarist Policy emasculated the Trade Union movement by ruthlessly crushing Britain’s manufacturing base as well as criminalising certain forms of strike action. Ever since the Union movement has given up the ghost and unlike Lazarus looks unlikely to rise after four decades.

Capitalism’s Trojan Horse to the workforce was presented in the 1950s with the introduction of mainframe computing, a second helping came in the 1980s with the personal computer. Corporations were now able to replace thousands of workers’ jobs with an insentient machine.

Thus began the de-humanisation, not only of the workforce, but also society. Every sentient human being was callously reduced to a code comprising a string of ones and zeros. Examples, National Insurance number, NHS number and payroll number.

This change in the complexion of the labour market, moving away from traditional practices to ad-hoc employment, benefits employers much more than the workforce. Direct labour costs are significantly reduced, and indirect labour costs have also been mitigated (National Insurance Contributions, pension contributions, sick pay, annual leave, etc.). Positive news for shareholders and investors. Not so much for the labour force, who bizarrely, in the wider sense, companies need to earn decent wages in order to buy their products and remain profitable. By handicapping the consumer pool, i.e., the country’s labour force, companies are reducing potential sales (if enough companies follow the trend for Zero Hour Contracts, the economy must suffer significant contraction as the velocity of money slows).

There are other more serious hidden costs for society. Anxiety and depression caused by insecure or irregular income (ACAS Study) cause increased pressure on Social Services whose budgets are already stretched. Many ZHC workers are afraid to turn down work because they fear being penalised. Lack of income causes indebtedness, use of payday loans further complicates debts. Reduced social mobility, families are unable to afford a mortgage, and those who rent are often at the mercy of unscrupulous landlords forcing high rental costs. In the worst cases, workers may not be able to rent at all if they do not have proof of continuous employment. Access to ethical credit may be difficult if no employment proof is available.

Anecdotal news of workers having to tolerate the indecency of timed toilet breaks is met with indifference. Posts on social media highlighting the plight of delivery drivers working long hours to deliver their consignments and having to use a bottle for their toilet break are viewed with weary acceptance. Isn’t it ironic that the words of hope expressed by post-war Labour politicians have been forgotten so soon after the conditions which nurtured them were overcome?

There are wider costs to the Country’s economy. Workers in this predicament are a drag on the economy, they have less confidence to spend than those with more stable employment. This affects the velocity of money theory, where a shortfall in spending or the amount of money in the system slows the general economy, causing a recessionary tendency.

Companies can have little hope of building a loyal workforce to grow their business if the workers are treated as a commodity.

We desperately need a national body to address this issue before ordinary people are forced into an unending cycle of low income, poor credit rating and benefits. When the perception is that the top 1 or 2% of society owns 90% of a country’s wealth, there is certainly a case for a fairer society.

Society needs to go back to basics and re-affirm the changes brought about by the original Labour Movement for a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. I do not mean this in terms of socialism, but destroying the unscrupulous stranglehold that Global Corporations hold over society must be stopped urgently.

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