The coronavirus pandemic has put an impossible choice for the millions of gig economy workers across the world – whether to ignore the lockdown and go out to work or stay at home and earn nothing.
This was evident in London where its streets were packed with subway cars in about 12 hours after the country’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the imposition of harsher social distancing steps – all part of a nationwide lockdown.
Under the new social distancing restrictions, residents are to be allowed step out of their home only for medical reasons, a visit to the local grocery shop or for exercise once a day. People will also be allowed to travel to and from work when absolutely necessary.
Stay-at-home orders have been issued in at least 16 states in the United States which is set to impact about 142 million people, or about 43 per cent of the US population.
However lockdowns will not have the intended results, if people whose work profile does not allow work from home are forced to continue reporting to job sites simply because not doing so will result in them losing out on pay or even their jobs.
“Many of those traveling to work today … work in the gig economy or are freelancers,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan said Tuesday on Twitter. “A proper package of support for these workers would alleviate this situation and help public transport, and I’ve raised this with the government,” he added.
US president Donald Trump was urged by Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi to include in his economic stimulus, protections and benefits for independent workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 15.9 million Americans, or about 10 per cent of the total owrkfoce of the country are self-employed.
In a letter to Trump, Khosrowshahi said: US laws “should protect all workers, not just one type of work”. He also urged the government to devise a longer-term safety net for gig economy workers.
Uber’s shared ride platforms are used for work by more than 1.3 million Americans. There were more than 3.9 million drivers globally working for the company as of the end of 2018 according to the company figures. The company views such drivers and car owners as independent contractors and therefore does not provide them any benefits payable to permanent workers.
If any of its drivers or delivery people are diagnosed with the coronavirus or placed into quarantine by a public health authority, financial assistance for up to 14 days is being provided to them by the company, Uber said in a statement. In contrast the wage subsidy scheme announced by the UK government will continue for a period three months.
(Adapted from CNN.com)