We are immersed in a set of social, demographic, economic and technological trends that profoundly impact and reconfigure labor relations and the future of work.
That predictable work world, in which each question had its correct answer, was already. It vanished. In the current exercise of anticipating new work scenarios, the important thing is not to focus on having the correct answers, but to focus on the new questions that we must address.
The good thing is that there are no experts. We are all newbies in these new scenarios. Being novices should make us humble and know how to enjoy exploration. With a fresh look, leaving behind certainties and mental frames that can limit our ability to see what we have in front of our eyes.
I would like, humbly, to share some of the interesting learnings and questions I have encountered during my own exploration of the future of work during 2018.
What do we understand by work?
- To focus on the theme, I prefer the reflection of Esko Kilpi: "The central idea behind the work will not change. The work is always solving the problems of others. " Accepting this definition, we do not have to worry about the future of work! The problems of others are infinite! We can naturally include non-productive work, care work and the contributions of people to their social environment, among other works that are often not considered and without which our society would collapse.
This of the gig economy what includes?
- In English the term is used gig economy. I liked the translation into Spanish that proposes the International Labor Organization (ILO) In recent documents where they speak of "sporadic or intermittent work". Under this umbrella we can study the rights and needs of independent workers and intermittent jobs as a whole, with digital platforms or without digital platforms. In Latin America, several governments have already seen that they can use the debate on gig economy to formalize other sectors that share characteristics even if they do not use platforms.
- With a vision of gig economy similar to the ILO, the agency Staffing Industry Analysts (SIA) publishes that the gig economy It has a value of 3,709,000 million US dollars. They reach this figure when adding the human cloud (work through online or offline work platforms), placement agencies (mostly analog), independent workers employed in short-term jobs (restaurants, shops, etc.), freelancers with contracts for projects or results, etc.
- The human cloud (Uber, Lyft, Didi, UpWork, Freelancer, etc.) contributes "only" 82,000 million to the total of the gig economy understood in this way.
- So, the macro tendency for the moment is not yet the work platformization (the use of platforms is still low), but the work becomes "intermittent" for a growing and diverse number of people. The challenge is complex, since the current labor system was designed under the main premise of permanent jobs.
The future of work ?: Are we sure that is the important question?
- It is not the future of work that should interest us. What we must question is the future of independent workers, your rights and your needs as people with intermittent labor relations and fluctuating incomes. The use of the plural, "independent workers", and not "independent worker" is relevant. The quality of work experience is very different for independent workers isolated than for self-employed workers grouped together.
- If we go a few years later and factorize automation using specialized artificial robots and intelligences, it seems that we are going to a world with less productive work done by humans. In this scenario, the question will not be the distribution of available work but the distribution of corporate income vs. The income from work in the whole of society. The lower contribution of wages to the total GDP of many countries it is already a reality, automation will make it much more obvious and dramatic, increasing inequality.
- In short: it is the future of income about what we really have to ask. Initiatives like The Economic Security Project in the United States they have already begun. All the debate of the basic rents, minimum guaranteed rents, etc. They also fit in this area. Esko Kilpi's definition of work takes on new importance to focus this exploration.
Employee vs. independent worker, a debate to overcome
- Most of the debate about platforms focuses on the dichotomy used vs. independent worker. This categorization and the accompanying social benefits have been inherited from another era, and it has restricted us to propose other solutions. "There are rights such as health protection, the prohibition of discrimination, the protection of data or the right to organize and defend oneself collectively, just to give some examples, which must be above the legal status", writes Luz Rodríguez. Focusing the debate on the protection of working people in general and we will advance more and better. More and more academics and governments are pointing in this direction. In Spain I think we can expect something new in this regard at the beginning of 2019.
- Overcome (or ignored) the dichotomy I really like the approach of the Think Tank RSA in the report 7 portraits of modern work in the UK. The axes focus on the person and not on the laws! Work experience in the vertical axis and economic security in the horizontal axis. Here we have more interesting groups of workers.
- To understand the diversity of independent work situations I recommend the book Gigged: The End of the Job and the Future of Work, of the best I've read this year. For its part, the book Uberland: How Algorithms Are Rewriting the Rules of Work tells us about the experience of having an algorithm as a boss.
WorkerTech, technology as an ally for independent workers
- If technology is reconfiguring labor relations, how can this same technology help to respect rights and meet the needs of independent and intermittent workers? This emerging category of startups focused on supporting independent workers is called WorkerTech. Collective representation (Organize), insurance (Zego), training (DWDI), taxes and administration (SmartIB), etc.
- To deepen in WorkerTech I recommend my own talk at Colaboramerica Medellin and the Inline Policy Whitepaper about the topic.
And a couple of interesting provocations …
- Inspired by Fair Trade, from the Oxford Internet Institute they have promoted the creation of the movement Fair Work focused mainly on the practices of work 100% online, the crowd work. In 2018 the basic principles and the strategy have been discussed so that this becomes a seal of quality for the platforms.
- "Should we treat data as labor? Let's open up the discussion ". Faced with the current narrative of considering data as a capital of companies, the authors challenge us to reflect on the impact of considering the generation of data, which in the end feed artificial intelligence systems and algorithms, such as work by the users.
As data workers We will have certain rights guaranteed, it will be a task that will dignify our digital activities, nobody will doubt our contribution to the data system to receive some kind of income unconditionally, we will have data cooperatives, we will have unions or groups of data workers, etc. It sounds interesting or even essential, right?
In summary, to continue exploring the "future of work" in 2019:
- Let's define work as "solve problems of others" for much deeper and more inclusive debates.
- Think of the "gig economy"As" intermittent work "(with or without platforms). Let's use the mediatic pull of the labor platforms to talk about precarious and informal work as a whole.
- Future of work (2018) -> Future of the workers (2019) -> Future of income (2021).
- Let's center the debate on the rights and needs of working people regardless of the type of employment relationship that they have What work experience Does the person? What economic security have?
- To guarantee these rights and cover these needs, let's use the technology to do it efficiently and scalable. Let's put the fashion WorkerTech in Spain too.
Let's continue making new and courageous questions. If the questions are good enough nobody will have the answers, but we will all have a feeling of shared responsibility to look for them. Who is targeted?