Charlotte Aguilar-Millan examines the effect of disembodiment on equality in her fifth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
The gig economy is often hailed as the future of work. It offers more flexibility than standard roles to both employee and employer. It offers greater independence. It offers more variety in roles. Yet with all these benefits, the workforce is experiencing inequality within corporations that is increasing exponentially. Over the past decade in the UK, corporations have seen CEOs’ earnings in the FTSE 100 increase four times as much as national average earnings. It is much higher in other countries including the US. It is little wonder that employees are seeking to take more ownership through contracting or temporary work. Employees do not want to represent corporations that demonstrate eye watering CEO pay and lavish corporate greed. Examples of this were seen during 2018. This includes Credit Suisse’s CEO who received a 30% pay rise whilst the share price fell by 38%.
Progress, however, has been made in legislation for greater transparency. From January 2019 within the UK, legislation now requires disclosure of the CEO to employee pay ratio for all companies employing over 250 staff. The inequality within one’s own company can now be brought to light. This will enable easy comparison of companies to measure inequality.
Such transparency has already caused staff to act. The CEO of the Financial Times, John Ridding, received a 25% pay increase in 2017 to £2.5m annual salary. Staff within the Financial times, were made aware of this and a revolt took place which saw his salary reduced to less than £1.2m in 2018. Progress in transparency reporting has enabled both consumers and employees to demonstrate their discontent with excessive boardroom pay.
This does not solve inequality in companies with no employees. Examples of this include UberEats and Deliveroo who will not fall under this legislation. They have few staff as they resource through contractors rather than staff. For globalised companies whose staff are often located separately from the client, such as Upwork or Gigster, there are no reporting requirements on transparency. Gig work provides no safety nets that accompany being an employee. This includes medical insurance, parental leave or pensions. Legislation has not placed a responsibility on companies to provide these benefits. Unions have developed to protect the gig worker. In February 2019 the union GMB agreed a deal with Hermes, a delivery company, to give enhanced rights to gig workers.
There are other industries from which inspiration can be sought. Acting, historically, has been an industry with many employees on short term contracts. To future proof their careers, the Screen Actors Guild Benefit Fund allows actors to pay into a progressive form of union. This provides a safety net for insurance and healthcare by gig workers earning credits each time they work that are used to contribute towards healthcare and retirement funds. However, organising a global contractor workforce who are located globally is difficult without the contracting party’s support. The gig economy represents a work force who have different expectations in working conditions.
It is up to legislators to protect the disembodied workforce. Disembodiment can fuel equality if the appropriate support is in place. Disembodiment gives the worker control over how they work in a way that employment cannot offer. Legislation is being considered to ensure the advantages of disembodiment are equally shared. As detailed in the Taylor Review of working practices, disembodiment benefits need to be two ways. Therefore, two-way flexibility should be in place. This could take the form of holiday pay, healthcare fees, and retirement funding. In this way disembodiment could fuel equality.
© Charlotte Aguilar-Millan 2019