For the business, the benefit was not paying for idle time and they have gained a better access to a wide array of skills. As the cost of managing and maintaining a workforce increased, companies have been increasingly able to outsource some of the risks. On the other hand, they offered their workers a freedom and flexibility they could not get from typical employment. That has proved popular with young people, retirees and people who are unwilling to work in hierarchical structures, or who are unavailable to work full-time, such as those with responsibility for childcare.
The gig economy is booming
Flexible working has proved popular. In the US, the number of “gig workers” has increased by six million since 2010. The share of independent workers at US businesses in 2019 was 16%. In the UK, around one in 10 people worked flexibly in 2019. In some countries, by some estimates, up to 30% of the working-age population may be involved in flexible labour, whether working full-time in a freelance role or moonlighting outside their main role.
The numbers are likely to keep growing as employees come to value flexibility, but the system isn’t without downsides. People working via online platforms are often classified as self-employed, but face vastly different working conditions, and in some cases they may in fact be closer to an employee than anything else. This matters because freelancers are responsible for organising their own social protection such as protection against loss of income or health insurance. Due to their short term thinking or simply the lack of resources they may fail to do so.
But freelancers are not the only ones who are at risk. In the EU, 13% of workers who are self-employed, temporary or work part-time, lack legal or practical access to unemployment insurance and 8% have no sickness benefits. In South Korea, about half of all workers are outside the unemployment insurance system. In the US, the biggest concern for workers is finding adequate healthcare coverage.