July 27 2020

'IN THE LOOP' - The Downside to Flexible Workforces: UBER, Deliveroo & Lyft

The way Gig economy work functions means workers have a lot of flexibility. External workforces such as those for UBER and Lyft have grown rapidly over the last decade, meaning more workers are taking jobs when, and where, they want.
The downside to this flexibility is insecurity, and this drawback has seen a lot of news coverage recently, with workers exposing the tough hours, low pay and lack of worker rights.
Workers are not subsidised for costs of vehicle maintenance and consistent work is difficult to find. There have been reports of drivers sleeping in their cars due to the need to be present in a more active area, while not being able to actually afford the rent. California’s Assembly Bill 5 was passed not too long ago, and its purpose was to restructure laws which placed security second to flexibility.
The bill calls for around 2 million Uber and Lyft independent contractors to become official employees, with a collective voice to raise issues and concerns to the company, alongside redeeming rights.
The inner workings of gig economy jobs rely heavily on externalising and socialising the costs of company maintenance, and although flexibility and autonomy are preached by these companies, there are definite downsides for the actual workers.
California’s Assembly Bill 5 threatened the structures of UBER and Lyft’s business models, inhibiting their profits through issues discussed previously, such as externalising costs. UBER has not been discreet in its response. Alongside Lyft, a ballot measure was pledged, estimated at around $60 million dollars from the two companies in attempts to come to an agreement which does not threaten their business model, whilst meeting terms set out by unions and lawmakers.
With our economy being driven by competition, it’s no surprise that Uber and Lyft would look to contest the bill. Workers with a collective voice and a union-like structure are exactly the features that allowed these companies to work so effectively in the first place while showing little support for their workers.
Uber’s network of independent contractors is largely made up of workers who perceive gig economy work as the future, as well as those in transitional periods of employment, students and others who prefer part-time flexibility over more traditional employment opportunities.
On the other hand, a UK research project saw that previously employed taxi drivers were fond of Uber’s unbiased function, criticising traditional taxi firms:
“They’ll keep the good jobs and they’ll give them to their friends who are working as taxi drivers”

(Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), 2018)

Other Gig economy workers reported that a lack of consistent work lead them to work for Uber and other similar employers. For these workers, the freedom to choose where and when they work is more favourable than long-term security, but it’s important to note that many of these were using their UBER work as temporary, part-time work. So are on-demand workforces willing to sacrifice their flexibility and autonomy for more conventional employee benefits?
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