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Feb18TueTemporary work is growing—but what are the consequences for workers? February 18, 2020 by Darryn Oldford
The world of employment is constantly changing. Gone are the days, if they ever truly existed, when a family could afford a house and a car with only one income and a high school education. For people of my generation, it sounds like a dream. Most of my friends’ dreams are much smaller: “I’d like to be able to afford a clean apartment without roommates.” “I’d like to travel out-of-province on vacation.” “I’d like to order something off a menu without first looking at how much it costs.” These are not people who spend beyond their means. They were in university when the recession began in 2008, and many are still struggling to make ends meet, while paying off enormous student debt.
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Little wonder, then, that the gig economy is growing. If your first thought when you hear the word “gig” is a single performance by a musician at a club, you’re not far off—in modern terms, it means a one-off job opportunity, with a well-defined beginning and ending. The gig economy includes white-collar executives who lend their expertise to massive companies for a six-figure salary, but for the most part, the jobs are much less lucrative. Examples of freelance workers include the driver you temporarily employ using a ride-sharing app, the person who brings you the sandwich you don’t want to make and the programmer who troubleshoots your website.
Some people pick up these odd jobs to earn extra money, but for many it is how they pay their bills. While traditional taxi and pizza delivery drivers had some flexibility with their work, they were also employees of a larger company or cooperative. Now, workers can be independent contractors who decide how much or how little they want to work. But the flipside to this freedom is that people can wind up working for less than minimum wage for more than 40 hours per week, with no benefits, simply because it is the best available option.
There is something inherently evil about a company that makes record profits while paying their front-line workers starvation wages. This is doubly true when a company could not exist without exploiting the labour of people who desperately need a job. 2 Timothy 2:6 says plainly, “The hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops.” A culture based on consumption is more interested in speed and ease of access to goods and services than the impact on the lives of real people.
With the touch of a button on my phone, I can order a car to take me anywhere and choose not to speak to my driver for the entire journey. Similarly, I can order food and, short of saying a quick thanks, not have to speak to the person delivering it. In many ways, we have given up human connection happily, not troubling ourselves to wonder how many hours this person has been working, how much of what we pay actually goes to them or whether their needs are met.
It’s not revolutionary to think that if someone is working full time, even in the service industry, which is often looked down on, they should be paid enough to have a life worth living. Regardless of our political ideology, human decency should drive us to care about the wellbeing of others.
Many people take these jobs because they can’t find more stable employment. Barring widespread economic restructuring and a complete change in how we perceive work and society, things are unlikely to change.
However, what we can do is recognize the inherent value of everyone we meet through their work, and do our best to ensure they are being paid fairly. Minimum wage needs to be a livable wage, and no employer should be exempt from that.
Even if you disagree with me, and you are one of the lucky few with a steady paycheque at a good job, pray for those who struggle financially. Make eye contact. Smile. Do something to let them know you see them as an image bearer of the divine, just as you are. They may be in your life for only a few seconds, but a kind word and act can last a lifetime.
Darryn Oldford is a senior soldier in Toronto.
Illustration: z_wei/iStock via Getty Images Plus