Com­pany of One

Shar­ing, gigs and the new econ­omy

ZOOMER Magazine - - NEWS - By Ian MacNeill

CALL IT A BRAVE NEW WORLD, call it a world turned up­side down, but whether it’s got you dazed and con­fused or chomp­ing at the bit to take part, the so-called New Econ­omy is chang­ing the way we work and make money. And it’s left many of us won­der­ing ex­actly how we’ll fit into this strange new model, where “shar­ing” and “gigs” rule the day.

SHAR­ING REALLY IS CAR­ING

From an en­vi­ron­men­tal point of view, shar­ing makes a lot of sense. Most of us own a lot of stuff, and a lot of it is stuff we don’t use all the time or at all in some cases (thanks Santa, thanks im­pulse buy­ing). Why not lend it out – at a price – to some­one who only needs it tem­po­rar­ily? Turns out the sky’s the limit be­cause th­ese days you can share any­thing from cars and bi­cy­cles to power tools and prom dresses. Peo­ple are shar­ing space in homes for strangers to sleep, space in their gar­den for their neigh­bours to grow toma­toes, even money via peer-topeer bank­ing. Buy less, share more, spare the planet. Why not?

GIGS BUT NOT BYTES Of equal in­ter­est to Cana­di­ans who are ei­ther in re­tire­ment or butting up against it is the rapid growth of the “gig” econ­omy. This one’s not so straight­for­ward. In sim­plest terms, it’s a work­ing ar­range­ment where sell­ers of labour are rede­fined as in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tors. In­stead of be­ing hired on as an em­ployee, you per­form a job, you get paid, you get out of the way. Cheer­lead­ers say it turns in­di­vid­ual work­ers into en­trepreneurs who enjoy flex­i­ble work­ing con­di­tions and a broader range of op­por­tu­ni­ties. It’s an ex­cit­ing new world in which any­one and ev­ery­one who wants a day off only has to go as far as the near­est mir­ror to dis­cuss the idea with the boss. A couple of years ago, a story in Wired opined, “It could be the force that saves the Amer­i­can worker.” Maybe, maybe not. It all de­pends on your sit­u­a­tion, the skills you have, what some­body is will­ing to pay for them and your en­thu­si­asm for be­ing an en­tre­pre­neur.

The spec­trum of em­ploy­ers in the gig econ­omy is vast, rang­ing from cor­po­ra­tions look­ing for tem­po­rary work­ers to in­di­vid­u­als need­ing their houses cleaned or a ride across town. Ac­coun­tants, artists, writ­ers, labour­ers, lawyers, handyper­sons – you name it – are all hang­ing up shin­gles and nam­ing them­selves CEO of Com­pany Me. It’s not like the idea just got in­vented; temp work­ers and in­di­vid­ual con­trac­tors – in­clud­ing free­lance writ­ers like me – have been around for­ever. What’s chang­ing the game is tech­nol­ogy – the In­ter­net and smart­phones. Ev­ery day, it seems a new plat­form or app emerges that is de­signed to link up buy­ers and sell­ers of labour. This is a good thing in and of it­self be­cause it creates op­por­tu­nity but at what price and for whom? So far the re­views are mixed. Linda Nazareth, an econ­o­mist at the MacDonald-Lau­rier In­sti­tute, says she was stunned when she saw how low some bids for ser­vices can go in the new econ­omy. “I used Fiverr to have a busi­ness card de­signed, and it cost $10 – for an orig­i­nal de­sign,” she says. On an­other oc­ca­sion, she paid five dol­lars to have a car­i­ca­ture drawn up for a birth­day party nap­kin – again, an orig­i­nal work of art. How is this pos­si­ble? The only way a home­based graphic de­signer in Toronto or Van­cou­ver could make it at those rates is if their home was a shop­ping cart. Part of the prob­lem is that the com­pe­ti­tion for the work is com­ing from around the world, ex­plains Nazareth. “I think the nap­kin came from some­one in Uruguay.”

The lower pay scales are not an anom­aly. Stud­ies in­di­cate that work­ers in the gig econ­omy are putting in more hours for less pay. Ac­cord­ing to the Bureau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics in the United States, “con­tin­gent” work-

ers earn, on av­er­age, US$140 less per week than “tra­di­tional” work­ers, and the only way to make up the dif­fer­ence is to work longer. And lower pay isn’t the only down­side; th­ese jobs come with­out the usual safe­tynet mech­a­nisms like sick days and em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance.

In ref­er­ence to the boomer de­mo­graphic, Dr. Wayne Lewchuk, a pro­fes­sor at McMaster Univer­sity’s School of Labour Stud­ies and co-au­thor of a re­port en­ti­tled The Pre­car­ity Penalty, says that the good news is that the gig econ­omy can pro­vide op­por­tu­ni­ties for those who can’t get full-time jobs be­cause of their age. “If you’re in a good fi­nan­cial po­si­tion and you just need a lit­tle ex­tra in­come or some­thing to do, it’s per­fect, but clearly a lot of peo­ple who are a bit older need more than that. What’s go­ing to be avail­able to them in the gig econ­omy may not make them happy.”

Even if the op­por­tu­ni­ties were widely avail­able and the com­pen­sa­tion ad­e­quate, not ev­ery­one is cut out to be an “en­tre­pre­neur.” I have made my liv­ing for more than 20 years as a free­lance writer and I can at­test to the “pre­car­ity” Lewchuck is talk­ing about. Here’s some of the hard lessons: in the eyes of the peo­ple hir­ing me, I am typ­i­cally only as good as my last job; if I fum­ble the ball, no­body I work for is ob­li­gated to hire me again – ever. It’s nice when you can build up a rep­u­ta­tion as an en­tre­pre­neur and the work comes to you, but some­times it doesn’t, and when that hap­pens you tend to get ner­vous, really ner­vous, es­pe­cially if you have a mort­gage to pay and a son who wants to be an en­gi­neer. When I tell peo­ple with steady jobs about making a liv­ing like this they in­vari­ably shud­der and say things like, “I could never live like that.”

Well, if things keep go­ing the way they are go­ing, they may have to. Ac­cord­ing to re­searchers in the United States, the gig econ­omy grew by more than 14 per cent be­tween 2002 to 2014. The New York Times says that rep­re­sents an in­crease of be­tween 20 to 32 mil­lion work­ers, or al­most 18 per cent of all jobs.

In other words, it’s not go­ing away, de­spite hic­cups like taxi driv­ers hurl­ing ex­ple­tives at sus­pected Uber driv­ers in Toronto and house clean­ers in San Francisco fil­ing a law­suit against Handy.com claim­ing the com­pany

45% OF CANA­DI­ANS ARE WILL­ING TO RENT THEIR BE­LONG­INGS TO OTH­ERS

40% OF YOUNG ON­TAR­I­ANS (18-34) ARE CON­SUMERS IN THE SHAR­ING ECON­OMY

42% OF THEM ARE WILL­ING TO RENT FROM OTH­ERS A TYP­I­CAL AIRBNB HOST IN ON­TARIO IS TAK­ING IN $ 450 THERE ARE MORE THAN 400,000 ES­TI­MATED UBER RIDERS IN TORONTO

15 IN RES­I­DENTS IN THE GTA HAVE USED UBER’S SER­VICES ON­LINE LEND­ING PLAT­FORM BORROWELL LAUNCHED WITH

$ 5.4 MIL­LION is treat­ing them like employees and should there­fore com­pen­sate them as such. It’s safe to say that in time the lawyers will fig­ure out a way to close the loop­holes and frame the con­tracts, and the gig econ­omy will con­tinue to grow. As it does, says Lewchuk, pol­icy-makers are go­ing to have to start hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion about how to en­sure it isn’t just cre­at­ing an un­der­class of poorly paid work­ers with no safety net to catch them if they get sick or can’t find work.

“In some ways, it’s fright­en­ing, but on the other hand Canada is a wealthy coun­try, and pro­duc­tiv­ity keeps go­ing up. We just have to find ways of shar­ing it fairly,” he says.

As­sum­ing we can find ways of do­ing that, the gig econ­omy looks set to pro­vide enor­mous op­por­tu­nity for older Cana­di­ans look­ing to stay in the game and con­tinue con­tribut­ing to the growth and pros­per­ity of both the na­tion and them­selves.

Taxi driv­ers in Toronto protest­ing Uber driv­ing ser­vice

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