Have the wheels come off the gig economy’s growth?

New CIPD research suggests that far from being the future of work, non-standard employment has been static over the past two decades. It is calling for more attention to improving job quality for all.

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In figures released today, the professional body for HR and people development’s research shows that work in the UK is “as secure as it was 20 years ago”.The study, Megatrends: Is work really becoming more insecure? finds limited evidence of growing casualisation of the labour force in its analysis of official statistics and literature reviews.
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According to the CIPD’s analysis, the share of non-permanent employment in the UK, which includes self-employed, agency and temporary workers (including temporary zero-hours contract workers), has not increased since 1998.It suggests that most people in atypical employment – whether they are self-employed, working in the digital gig economy or on a zero-hours contract – choose to work in this way and are broadly satisfied. The study also reports no long-term increase in the under-employment rate of workers who want more hours. This was just under 7% between 2002-07, before peaking at about 10% in 2011 and then falling back to just over 7% in 2018.  

Economic concerns impact satisfaction with non-standard arrangements

The vibrancy of the economy impacts on the proportion of people who regard themselves as involuntarily on this type of arrangement.The share of involuntary temporary workers who would rather have a permanent job peaked at about 41% in 1994, before falling to just under 26% in 2007.It increased again during the economic downturn to 40% in 2013 before falling again to just under 27% by 2018. 

'Once in a generation' upgrade of workers' rights and the Good Work agenda

The CIPD's study adds further insight into the debate around how to improve work for all as employment rates in the UK hit record highs and the recent legislative focus on non-standard employment types.Last year, Matthew Taylor’s Modern Working Practices Review culminated with the government adopting 51 of its 53 recommendations.The package of new legislation unveiled by then-Business Secretary Greg Clark MP seeks to ensure all workers are able to access fair and decent work, and offer businesses greater clarity on their obligations around non-standard forms of employment.The measures include the right from day one to a written statement of rights to workers, including eligibility for sick leave, pay and other types of paid leave, like maternity and paternity leave.

'Focus now should be tackling low pay and discrimination'

However, the report concludes that, while it’s important to improve the conditions and rights of people working atypically, policy makers need to focus more attention on improving the quality of employment for people in "regular" jobs who account for a significant majority of total employment. For example, by doing more to address the causes of low pay and preventing discrimination at work.Ben Willmott, head of public policy at the CIPD, said: “This report counters some of the common rhetoric that employment in the UK is becoming more insecure. On a wide range of indicators, the evidence suggests that, overall, employment security has remained broadly stable over the last two decades with very little evidence of any structural big increase in casual and insecure work.“This suggests that more attention should be paid by policy makers and employers on improving job quality and workplace productivity across the economy to tackle problems such as low pay and discrimination, not simply on improving the rights and security of atypical workers, important though this is.“The government needs to outline in its Industrial Strategy additional measures to work with employers to improve how people are managed and developed. For example, through ensuring sector deals are contingent on plans to improve leadership and people management practices, providing enhanced business support to small firms and improving labour market enforcement.”

Read more HR news and opinion from the CIPD here.

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