What’s So New About the “Gig” Economy? And What Should Be Done About It?

Event Date: 
17 August 2017
UWA Business School, Wesfarmers Lecture Theatre
Hackett Entrance 4, Hackett Drive

Contemporary Issues in Employment Relations - Annual Lecture 2017
Presenter: Dr Jim Stanford, Centre for Future of Work (Australia Institute)

The development of platform-based businesses (like Uber), which utilise on-call contingent labour to do the work, has led some commentators to proclaim that traditional “jobs” (as we know them) will come to an end. Instead of being employees, workers will support themselves as flexible, free independent suppliers. Some welcome this development, others fear its consequences for the stability and quality of work. But all see it as a process driven primarily by technology, and most would consider it inevitable. Standing in the way of the “gig” economy is seen as no more feasible than the efforts of Luddites to stop the steam engine and the spinning jenny. Some perspective is needed to better understand what is actually new about digital platform businesses, and to distinguish between the technical innovations which they utilise and the changes in work organisation which their business models require. The major organisational features of “gig” type work – contingent on-call labour, piece work, and workers utilising their own equipment – are not new at all. And the creation of more precarious jobs, including those in digital platforms, reflects changing social relationships as much as technological progress.

This lecture will put the “gig” economy in historical and theoretical perspective, identifying the reasons why businesses are expanding this type of employment, and the potential regulatory and political responses to the rise of “gig” work.

UWA Business School
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