Lean Manufacturing and the Gig Economy. The Commodification of Human Rights

The gig economy is essentially labour markets that are characterized by short-term contracts or freelance work rather than permanent jobs. It’s the result of technological advancements and economic downturns and it’s bleeding its poison all over the world. The gig economy emerged around 2008-2009, during the depths of the financial crisis. Well, when I say emerged, it was popularized. The term ‘gig economy’ was coined around 1915, whereby jazz musicians used it to refer to performances. But the outcome of the newly versed gig economy is anything but musical.

This brings me to ask the question, has the financial crisis been a catalyst for the gig economy to keep minorities in their ‘rightful’ position in society?

What is lean manufacturing?

To put it simply, lean manufacturing is a methodology that focuses on minimizing waste within a manufacturing system whilst simultaneously maximizing productivity. It is the systemisation of people, working small tasks for a desired outcome. But who is the desired outcome for?

So, is the gig economy another phrase for lean manufacturing minorities and working class people?

Whenever I studied the gig economy, it seemed great. I’d often read statements such as “enabling people to work in a more adaptable environment, meeting the needs of the moment and demand for flexible lifestyles”....bullshit. Whilst the gig economy works for some people, it often encompasses jobs such as:

  • Writer

  • Graphic designer

  • Web designer

  • Social media manager

  • Developer

  • Marketer

  • Waitress/ waiter

  • Chef

  • Engineer

  • Photographer

However, what’s not put on gig economy slogans is the absence of a steady salary, paid sick leave and other benefits, the chances of financial insecurity are much higher. People are working in jobs that they are fully qualified for, with no security. Churning people in and out of the system, just like lean manufacturing. Essentially, the gig economy is based upon short-term, zero hour contracts or no contracts at all. Therefore, there is little room for progression. It essentially is reinforcing a class system, whereby only the ‘valuable’ members of society hold the privilege of a secure job. Statistics have shown that 1 in 10 people in Britain are employed within the gig economy, accounting for 4.7 million people. Those figures have been increasing by a third since 2016. Whilst Theresa May called for a review of the gig economy in 2016, the calls for help of gig economy workers are still echoing.

“The world of work is changing fast and working people don’t have the protection they need. Huge numbers are being forced to take on casual and insecure platform work – often on top of other jobs. But as we’ve seen with Uber too often these workers are denied their rights and are treated like disposable labour.”

(Gig economy in Britain doubles, accounting for 4.7 million workers, 2019)

So how is it that the gig economy and lean manufacturing are interlinked? Disposable Labour

Ethically, you can’t put a price on a life. However, the current global market puts prices on the lives of people everyday. Using a utilitarian motive, societal leaders chose what’s greatest for the ‘economy’, rather than giving people the human rights they are entitled to, such as a regular wage, pensions, contracts and security. As aforementioned, just like lean manufacturing, the gig economy is churning out the labour of hard working people and so easily disposing of the labour it doesn’t need. The fear is that eventually, the gig economy will decrease the bargaining power of the working class and minorities, relinquishing them of any power gained and thus hindering social mobility. This will exploit the financial anxiety and instabliabilit of a perpetually unstable working class.

The Gig Economy and Women

Recently labour in the new economy has drawn tremendous financial, legal, and political dialogue. The changes brought about by research driven by the platform are Considered, and create fundamental obstacles for the future of work dispute regarding the proper classification of workers as staff or Autonomous contractors. And, amid this growing discussion, attention is paid to gender

Research has suggested that the gig economy shows great potential to enhance women's economic empowerment through electronic workforce participation. Firstly, in some cases at least, staff experience a greater degree of privacy and future inclusiveness while delivering online services that may account for prejudice, obstacles , and discrimination still faced by women in the general workforce. However, equally online platforms have been criticized for not upholding worker anonymity and gender ‘blindness’, thus resulting in a variation of pay, promotion and opportunities between genders.

On the other hand, the gig economy seems perfect for women, right? companies market themselves as empowering women by providing them with the flexibility they need to balance work with family and other gendered responsibilities (women are still considered primary caregivers). However, as aforementioned the contracting, freelancing, or “tasking” work models require far less investment in workers, offer fewer opportunities for workers to establish relationships with employers, and provide fewer benefits and a paucity of protections against discrimination than do long-term or full-time employment models. Furthermore, gig economy employment often results in low employee bargaining power over wages, resulting in lower bidding rates and information gaps about employment requirements. Thus pressuring individuals to lower their wage big, which may generate exploitative work practises.

To conclude, one must see it as reasonable to argue that the gig economy is a hindrance on economic sustainability and equality for women. Moreover, it can be argued that the gig economy is not aiding the work-family conflict, but is in fact perpetuating it by reducing humanity and rights to a mere commodity. Since isolated and fractured labour puts the dream of steady jobs and self-sufficiency beyond the reach of many employees and thus allows them to work for more hours to achieve ends, it may pose multiple risks for workers and families. This form of work can carry additional specific, gender-specific risks for carers. For instance, arranging, scheduling, and providing childcare when one is an on-call worker makes it even harder to sustain juggling work and family.

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