When we think back on the pandemic and try to summon a single flashbulb memory of this weird time, we may find ourselves conjuring up mental images of silhouetted food delivery couriers schlepping boxy backpacks as they navigate electric bikes through deserted streets.
Global delivery service platforms like UberEats, Foodora and DoorDash not only generated vast new revenues during the lockdown months; they also provided gig work for thousands of people.
The gig economy, of course, garnered plenty of attention before the pandemic, as the proliferation of platforms during the 2010s created new digital marketplaces that cut out the organizational middleman. Fearing the demise of conventional labour-employer relationships, some jurisdictions, like California, pushed to regulate platforms or extend benefits to gig workers. Unionizing drives generated sound and light, if not successful certification votes.
Through it all, the ranks of gig workers have crept steadily upward, now accounting for almost 10% of the labour force (or two-million workers), up from just 5.5% in 2005, according to Statistics Canada. In the U.S., the figure is one-fifth, and is predicted to grow to more than 40%.
Yet, as Erin Reid, an associate professor at McMaster’s DeGroote School of Business, points out, the gig labour force is far more varied than food deliverers and rideshare drivers. “There are a lot of other people involved, too,” she says. “Some people work in the gig economy because they like having control over what they do. Others are working there because organizations aren’t offering great jobs.”
This article was originally published in The Globe & Mail Report on Business. Read full article.