By Antony Mutunga
In the digital era, the gig economy has created new opportunities, especially in the developing world. Gigs are becoming the new norm, and 8 to 5 jobs are not the only way to source an income. Today, if you have a skill, you can use it in your free time or full time to earn. For instance, around the world, many people have taken advantage of the gig economy through the likes of Uber and Airbnb.
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Its characteristics are flexibility, greater independence, and the choice to select what job one wants is what has attracted most people and led to the rapid rise of the gig economy. However, despite these good attributes, it has brought about challenges as well. For example, on the side of the employer, reliance on gig economy workers is not always a walk in the park. Some workers do not take the work seriously and end up giving unsatisfactory results which might tarnish the image of the business. Employers looking to work with gig workers should thoroughly inquire about them to ensure they have reliable freelancers.
The gig economy has mostly caused more challenges for the gig worker. Most people take up gigs to earn more money and, give unemployment levels, as full-time jobs; however the majority fail to consider the responsibility that comes with it. Working as an independent contractor comes with duties such as handling one’s taxes, tracking expenses, and handling necessities such as insurance in the case of Uber. When investing in the gig economy, especially those taking gigs as full-time jobs, it is crucial to remember that the jobs come with new responsibilities. For instance, one should learn what taxes they are required to pay as well as how to save, especially with increased expenses.
Even though gigs have become a source of income for many, they offers an inconsistent income that one cannot be relied upon. For instance, using Airbnb to rent out their free space does not always guarantee they will find clients. In fact, because of the rising popularity and increasing competition, gig workers are finding it more difficult to find jobs. Another example is that of Martin Muende, an Uber taxi driver in Nairobi, who says that getting customers has become more difficult with time. “Compared to when we started, a lot has changed… the income has dwindled and become inconsistent,” he said.
Further, gigs are for independent contractors and thus, when compared to employed workers, they do not enjoy extra benefits. Most organisations provide benefits such as medical cover, life insurance, company-sponsored retirement planning options and, paid time off. Such benefits are one of the reasons many people prefer full-time employment as it offers some job security. For gigs, one has to rely on the number of jobs they can get to cater for all expenses, including emergency ones.
The lack of security also causes one to experience stress which causes a decrease in productivity, leading to compressed income. Additionally, the inconsistency on what to do when the job ends and what to do next if one can’t find another also causes stress in gig workers. The change of salary in a similar project but from different organisations is also a stressor in most cases.
Gig workers must understand that it is not all a walk in the park; they must understand the challenges they will face before engaging in gigs.
The gig economy is changing how we work. It is one of the ways Africans can use tackle unemployment and rising population and grow their economies. But identifying the downsides to it is only the first step; the second is handling these challenges. (