Gig economy: has the model reached its limits during the crisis?

by bold-lichterman

From Paris to Kuala Lumpur, via California, “We can no longer live off this job”, or so with difficulty. AFP went to meet workers in the “gig economy”, faced with the pandemic with ever greater precariousness. “Gig” or “job”, that’s how in the 1920s, jazz musicians referred to a one-off paid performance. A century later, the “gig economy” or “task economy” provides a living in the world of millions of people, in particular drivers or food deliverers, who work according to the algorithms of Uber, Deliveroo or other platforms. .

In France, not to be a “slave” to the algos

Wissem Inal, 32, stocky, beard growing on a round face, swallows 700 kilometers per week to deliver cooked meals on a scooter in the Parisian suburbs. He has been working for the Deliveroo platform since 2017, but also others like Uber Eats and Stuart. And delivers six to ten orders every night, between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. “At the moment, with the confinement, I take out 500 euros net per month”. Wissem admits having struggled to “see the bright side” of his job in recent months, criticizing the “vagueness” of Deliveroo’s algorithm. ” A race can be worth 6 euros at noon and the same 3 euros in the evening. You can’t live with this job anymore, unless you become slaves ”.

He himself joined the Collectif des delivereurs autonomes parisiens (Clap), dedicated to the defense of self-employed entrepreneurs like him. In 2018, the courier suffered a rupture of the cruciate ligaments after an accident during a delivery. ” Six months of hardship ”, yet he does not intend to give up working for platforms. ” But we must be able to defend ourselves ”.

In California, “juggling” to get by

Erica Mighetto quit driving for Uber in March. Three years ago, however, “ life was good ”, says this cheerful woman, almost forty years old. She had started on Lyft, the American competitor of Uber, the time to find a job as an accountant – like many drivers, who try to earn enough money to move on, but fail. “I chose my schedules, my son had just left the nest, I had this feeling of newfound freedom …”.

A resident of Sacramento, she regularly spends weekends in the more lucrative San Francisco Bay, even if it means sleeping in her car or in a hostel for $ 25 a night. Of the $ 60 or $ 80 gross an hour she could earn in San Francisco in 2017, only $ 20 remains at the start of the year, less than 10 in March. She also denounces the opaque rules of applications. ” The algorithm knows me personally. So the bonus offers are tailor-made according to what I will accept, for example 350 dollars if I do at least 120 races during the week ”.

In the spring, Erica stops driving to protect herself from Covid-19. She is fighting to collect the insurance paid to unemployed workers: 450 dollars per week, instead of the 167 provided for self-employed workers. She also received $ 600 a week in federal aid for four months. Erica, who spent the fall proclaiming with the group “Rideshare Drivers United” that companies are a “scam”, was especially not digested the defeat at the polls. On November 3, residents of California voted over 58% in favor of Uber and Lyft, which demanded that drivers remain on contract. While the state wants to force them to consider them as employees. Devon Gutekunst, a 27-year-old Californian, delivers meals, notably via the DoorDash platform – which has just raised more than $ 3 billion via a triumphant IPO.

His phone tells him of a race: “$ 5.50 for 4.6 miles (7.5 km) and they want delivery in 30 minutes.” It is equivalent to 11 dollars an hour, it is too little “. He has set himself a minimum of 18 dollars. Its “strategy”: to be selective, to stick to the west of Los Angeles and the chic seaside towns of Marina Del Rey and Santa Monica. And above all “juggling” between DoorDash and competing applications. At the height of confinement in California, “between May and August, I was earning well, there was a lot more activity. It’s a little quieter now. Or it is that there are too many delivery people on the market ”.

In Malaysia, 2 p.m. for $ 27

Amal Fahmi, 24, has her eye on her mobile phone, specifically the Grab delivery app, popular in Southeast Asia. Like many Malaysians, he earns a living by delivering meals, medicines and shopping on motorbikes in the bustling town of Petaling Jaya, on the outskirts of the capital Kuala Lumpur. Before the pandemic, the young man with long hair was a driver of a VTC, also via Grab, in Johor, a city in the south of the country. “I was making a good and easy living. But with the virus it got harder, a lot of people lost their jobs and my income went down ”, he explains, while waiting outside a store for his order to be prepared, the ninth he delivers that day.

Amal therefore left her hometown for the capital and its surroundings, in the hope of finding more work there. He earns just over $ 700 (US) per month, as long as he doesn’t count his hours. Later in the day, he will reach his daily average – $ 27 – after fourteen hours of work. “Look around me, there are so many of us doing delivery, it’s getting difficult. “ Amal, who has no education or qualifications, would prefer a stable job, but he doesn’t reject everything: “What motivates me is that I am my own boss… I can manage my time and above all, no one yells at me”.