The article New ‘gig’ economy spells end to lifetime careers published in the FT by Mr John Gapper, romanticizes precarious employment and caricatures the notion of stable employment, despite the author’s best intentions to balance the benefits and the worries generated by ‘gig’ economy.
Precarious employment is often characterised by lack of healthcare and pension benefits (briefly mentioned in the article) and by the inability of the part-timer and/or the contractor to make long-term plans. How can one lead a life worth living if temporariness is a constant and major source of insecurity?
The article not only discounts the adverse effects of precarious employment, it also caricatures stable employment by reducing it to the concept of “lifetime careers.” The opposite of precarious employment is not what is exemplified through the case of the bank clerk provided in the article where a lifetime career becomes synonymous to boredom, routine and undue permanence. Rather, the opposite of precarious employment is stable employment with access to labour rights. The following three points provide a brief outline of the rights that are often absent from the ‘gig’ employment described by Mr. Gapper.
If the employee holds her own end of the bargain by fulfilling all the terms of her employment to a satisfactory degree, then she must be able to retain her position for (at least) the mid-term. If she cannot retain the job for reasons unrelated to her performance, then enough notice should be given to enable her to make alternative arrangements, thus minimizing the stress of the precariousness involved in leaving what was considered secure employment.
Employment should be seen as a right that generates self-esteem. The absence of employment or the precariousness of employment has detrimental effects to the well-being of individuals. The stability of employment arrangements should thus be of utmost interest to policy makers and subject to regulation.
Stable employment does not mean permanent employment. The model of lifetime career seen through the prism of permanence is grossly outdated and does not reflect the realities and the fluidities of our era. The key to stable employment is its emphasis on rights. People should not be discouraged from seeking new career paths or exploring new avenues. Rather, they should be encouraged to do so whilst ensuring that two kinds of rights are maintained. Firstly, the right to employment of those who want to lead a more stable working life, and secondly, the access to rights – particularly access to high quality healthcare and pension benefits – to those with more fluid employment arrangements, thus ensuring that the ‘gig’ employment lifestyle is a product of choice and not of exploitation or coercion.