Everything you wanted to know about the gig economy but were afraid to ask
Last year, I had almost completed a marketing manager contract up north in Kerikeri when I fell ill. As in, “no one can figure out what’s wrong, let’s call Dr. House” kind of ill. Once they worked it out, I finished up my contract, rested, and then started thinking about what I would do next.
I went to WINZ for help. But I was told that I couldn’t get all of my entitlements because I had reserved money to pay my taxes and could still spend those funds. I suggested that it would be imprudent to do so. Still they refused.
I went to interviews, and frankly didn’t really find the right fit there either. I resolved to fill my time doing things that I wanted to do and that add value to the world. I returned to The Opportunities Party and started driving for Uber to pay the bills. In between, I’ve been working on some personal creative projects and planning things I might do in the future.
It’s hard. Hard to balance things. To get it right. To be responsive when needed as a driver and committed to going out, sometimes late at night, to drive people around to parties. The Government doesn’t provide any support. Taxes are tricky to work out yourself and hiring an accountant takes up a significant chunk of your earnings. If you get sick, there is nowhere to go. Getting sorted with WINZ takes time and they don’t really have any way to help you.
But it’s also great. My time is my own. I decide when and how to work. I’m more flexible now about my work habits. My mind is sharper. I have time to think about things. Sometimes a late night passenger is a nurse or doctor coming home from a long shift. I quietly greet them and talk if they want, or not if they don’t. Sometimes, it’s someone who’s in a jam and grateful for the ride. I’ve had some extraordinary conversations and met genuinely lovely people. Some who make me laugh until my sides hurt. Some I’ll never forget. But it isn’t enough money unless you do it all the time. You can work up to 70 hours a week. Some drivers do and that’s hard.
But the problem isn’t Uber or any of the other apps. The problem is that we are slipping into a world that needs fewer humans to cover the volume of work. Our economy and society are based on full-time employment. And that’s disappearing. Filling its place is the modern-day version of “piece work”, where back in the first industrial revolution, families would take work home and do it around the table. Now, someone might be an artist, deliver for Uber eats, work as a barista for a few hours every morning, and create an online shopping portal for selling a product that they produce.
You’ve heard TOP talk a lot about the unconditional basic income (UBI). It’s an idea that’s gaining traction across the world. Governments everywhere recognise that the future of work is less of it. But what changes need to be made? Providing a flat, basic income of $200 per week would go a long way in keeping people stable and on course. It would eliminate bureaucracy by removing obstacles to getting a benefit. My current tax scenario would not arise with a UBI. Taxes should be easier for everyone. Changing the codes to avoid double taxes has certainly helped a lot of people.
It would also relieve so much stress and enable everyone to find creative ways to live under the coming avalanche of redundancies.