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Are we all NOW Gigworkers? Part 1


Who are Gigworkers? What is gig working?  Can this be measured?

Here, we tell the story of a Panel Discussion that hasn’t yet taken place!   This Panel Discussion –- planned for 22.04.20 – has, due to Covid-19, now been rescheduled for September.

The total population of the UK is 65m and, within this, the Office for National Statistics’ figure for the UK’s “working population” is 33m.  The argument from Working Free (www.WorkingFree.co.uk) is that nearly half of the UK’s working population are now Gigworkers (for want of a better word). The purpose of this Panel Discussion was – and still is – to assess this argument. What might this mean – for the UK, for its people, for its businesses and for the future?

Created and promoted by Devonshire House and driven by The Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), ACAS, the TUC,  Eversheds Sutherland and Working Free, this interactive specialist Panel Discussion planned for 22.4.20 to look into the major changes in UK working practices that have and are taking place, intended to talk, think and speculate about where these changes were heading.  The arrival of Covid-19 made this so very different – so acute, so pivotal.  But the whole idea behind promoting this specific Event was to examine the very big changes going on within the workplace and employment sectors – can you imagine what it is going to be like in September when we have planned to have the Panel Discussion? Or, indeed after the Covid-19 dust has settled.

Hence this Snapshot Review.  When we planned this Panel Discussion, the Coronavirus was just a bit of local difficulty in a faraway country………………but when we came to collect our thoughts in the Snapshot Review, it wasn’t!

We tell the story in three Parts – each Part being updated into a fresh issue as and when new material becomes available.

  • Part 1 – Who are Gigworkers? What is gig working.  Can this be measured?
  • Part 2 – The Panellists and what they think.
  • Part 3 – The Future. Thoughts on what our working world might look like after Covid-19. Is this the next industrial Revolution?


Of all the words used to describe this sector of the workforce – including Typical/ Atypical – none really fully hits the target – But “Gigworker” is the one that seems to capture the public and broader interest.  What needs to be recognised is that the “gig economy” –  which is what “Gigworkers” do – needs to be seen as all forms of work activity other than purely full time employed on a payroll – nothing more and nothing less.  Otherwise, nothing makes sense!  See Section on Research and the Statistics. If we can identify the trends and patterns in our working world, we can identify how we ought to react. We are looking for new insights, new knowledge and new solutions 

Research and the Statistics – understanding, interpreting and measuring.

Office for National Statistics – UK Labour Market Statistical bulletins. www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lms/labour-market-statistics/index.html  Look at table EMP01and EMP07 for Temporary Workers.

And read this supporting text offered by Working Free:-  www.workingfree.co.uk/self-drive-worker/truth-about-jobs/

Working Free suggests you look at measuring the gig economy like this:

Look at the monthly Office for National Statistics Reports (ONS) (EMP01) and ask how many of the 33m UK working population are wholly full-time employees on the permanent corporate headcount. – nothing more and nothing less. Deduct from their figure of FTE 1.5m temps (EMP07) and 1.2m for FTEs with a second job. The answer offered here is 55% of 33m. The other 45% are something different.  It is a complex mix, changing all the time, troubled by issues of definition, interpretation and self-certification.  But these ONS figures are the best available – with others getting nowhere near the scale, depth and consistency of the ONS.  Working Free calls this 45% “Self Drive Workers”.  For the purposes of this Event and this Snapshot Review, we shall call them Gigworkers.  It is this 45% of the working population that is under scrutiny by this expert Panel.

Self Drive Workers/Gigworkers are those who need, either wholly or in part, to find their own work, their own “clients” – their own things to do – with their infinitely variable and often uncertain levels of reward. They are not dependant on one employer for their income.  They are a varied and mixed group of part-timers, self-employed, contractors, freelancers, Interim Managers, Temps, Consultants, Management Consultants, Semi-retired people, Portfolio Workers, Off-payroll workers, etc. (Portfolio Workers include a broad mix of Professionals who have more than one source of income and work-type activity (whether on the payroll, freelance or non-remunerated)).  “Redundant Executives” very often position themselves – often unknowingly – somewhere in this 45% category. Some see themselves as (working) Consultants and some see themselves as unemployed and this might vary from month to month. Unemployed statistics are not included in these figures – but Gigworkers who are not actually working/earning may sometimes self-certify themselves as “unemployed”.

The REC – The Recruitment and Employment Confederation – has sector-leading information about the UK recruitment industry – www.rec.uk.com .  In particular, comprehensive research information is available here – www.rec.uk.com/research

REC members hire 1m new workers ever year and place 1m temporary workers every day. Here is Neil Carberry’s open letter to the Prime Minister about Covid-19.


Neil Carberry and the REC played a vital lobbying role that resulted in the Government delaying the full implementation of the IR35 rule as regards the Private Sector in the recent Budget and its subsequent suspension in the more recent Covid-19 measures. Their negotiating skill left for another discussion how best to differentiate between those who should be taxed the client’s payroll mechanisms and those who should be engaged as external independent consultants.  Matthew Taylor covered this in his Report “Good Work” that he undertook on behalf of the Government.  If an engagement constitutes “disguised employment” then that person should be taxed as an employee.  The main issue here is that none of the benefits of being an employee apply.  The rules for differentiation are currently inadequate.


The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employedwww.ipse.co.uk – also has much useful market and research information.

IPSE describes itself as:-“ the voice of the UK’s self-employed population who make up one in seven people working today. We make sure freelancers, interim managers, consultants and contractors are represented to Government. By producing insightful, hard-hitting research and effective policy campaigns, we fight to create a better environment for the self-employed to run their businesses and ultimately, ensure our economy remains one of the most flexible in the world.”

IPSE developed from the Professional Contractors Group (PCG) – and IT Contractors are still the greater part of their 76k membership and associates.  Brought forward from the PCG is their strong and effective support to members in IR35 disputes and their professional and impactful approach to lobbying. This is now very much centre stage.  A useful message to all at those wrestling with IR35 issues at present time is if it looks like a duck; if it waddles like a duck and if it quacks like a duck, then it is almost certainly a duck!

They quote as their constituency the ONS figures for full time and part time Self-Employed workers – 5m. It is interesting to speculate to what extent their membership comes from this specific ONS category and what comes from other ONS categories – enlarging significantly their potential influence.

The Bad News!  For now. 

When times get hard, it is the gigworker who suffers first.  The theory is that clients get what they want – immediately.  It is controllable, measurable and can be terminated when it suits – with minimal legislative considerations. In return, the gigworker gets the lifestyle they want and what they see as better money.  What has happened now is that recent legislation has changed this.  Babies have been thrown out with the bath water.  This should not have happened.

BUT – worst of all is Covid-19.  Gigworkers are still the first to be terminated – an academic point – but there is no new work for them to go after and, even if there was they are prohibited from chasing it.  They have no meaningful recognition as an asset class nor financial support of any note from Government.  Are we all NOW Gigworkers?  Looks like we are all heading that way!

A Note about Context

The sweep between typical and atypical working patterns is very broad. It covers zero hours workers struggling to make ends meet all the way up to fat cats doing their own thing after a successful and highly remunerated c-suite role in a little-risk environment. In many ways, what we have now is an outcome of rapid change – such as happens in industrial revolutions.  It almost drives itself with little third party interventions. It is also about money, about lifestyle choices.  But it is also about ethics and morals.

Consider, for a moment Ken Loache’s latest film – Hidden Agenda.   This film shines a light on zero-hours contracts and their effect on family life.  So says the FT on 27.10.19.  Loache’s latest gritty film paints almost a nihilistic picture of gigworking at the entry-level.  Not enough to live on.  No legal protection. No social network. Big unwanted risks. Mental health issues.  This has to be morally wrong by any standards.  But is it true – and/or widespread?  Who should do what?

About the distinguished Members of the Panel Discussion planned for 22.4.20.  The Panel Discussion was to be chaired by Sophie White, Partner, Eversheds Sutherland and the Panel consisted  of  Neil Carberry, CEO, at the REC,  Susan Clews, CEO at ACAS, Paul Nowak, Deputy General Secretary at the TUC, Charles Russam, MD at Working Free andMartin Warren, Specialist Consultant at Eversheds Sutherland.  Please see Part 2 – a separate Paper.

 Eversheds Sutherland

We are grateful to Eversheds for hosting this Event – whenever it takes place! As a global top 15 law practice, Eversheds Sutherland –  www.eversheds-sutherland.com –  created by a combination of law firms Eversheds LLP and Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP, in February 2017, the firm provides legal advice and solutions to a global client base ranging from small and mid-sized businesses to the largest multinationals.  They provide the full range of legal services, including corporate and M&A; dispute resolution and litigation; energy and infrastructure; insurance and financial services; human capital and labour law; intellectual property; real estate and construction; and tax. Contact Sophie White, SophieWhite@eversheds-sutherland.com

Devonshire House

Established about forty years ago, Devonshire House is a people-focused membership club for Director-level professionals in leadership roles who have an instinctive focus on the human side of Enterprise.  Their aim is to create for their members thinking time and space for key business issues, and where people make the difference.  Devonshire House runs about ten main Events each year – a mix of formal dinners, buffets, Directors Forums, Panel Debates, Panel Discussions – and some other specialist one-offs.  www.DevonshireHouseNetwork.co.uk  Contact – Charles Russam.  Charles.russam@DevonshireHouseNetwork.co.uk


Working Free

Working Free Ltd is a specialist career advisory business supporting senior Director-level executives coming off the permanent payroll into an independent working lifestyle.

Working Free works with Corporates and Individuals, helping them move from dependency into independency – for their own future; for the enlightened reputation of their sponsoring organisations and – increasingly – for the benefit of the community. Reflecting the level at which we operate, these senior executives will be in their 50s but with many in their 40s. Our primary offering is to organisations but we are also pleased to work with individuals.  Through our Pathfinder Programme, we work for organisations and senior executives.  www.WorkingFree.co.uk . Contact – Peter Barnett.  peter.barnett@WorkingFree.co.uk[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

“Better Comes Next” is our collaborative and inclusive management mission.

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