How could you improve your contingent worker value proposition?

Just because they aren’t full-time, doesn’t mean contingent workers don’t deserve a fully-nurtured employee experience. Rules of engagement, extra benefits, and upskilling are all options that can set you apart...
HR Grapevine
HR Grapevine | Executive Grapevine International Ltd
How could you improve your contingent worker value proposition?
Contingent workers consistently report being treated as second-class workers

As a student, I had a part-time job as a cycle courier for a well-known food delivery service in London.

For my lifestyle, it worked perfectly. I selected shifts around my studies, or more accurately, my social life. I would increase my schedule when my bank account and food cupboards were equally bare, and dial shifts back when deadlines approached, party invites stacked up, or storm clouds gathered. From the job flexibility to the fetching company-branded cycling gear, everything about the simple employee-employer relationship suited me to a tee.

However, the job also showed me the darker side of gig-economy employment. When I met with other couriers whilst collecting food or waiting for orders, I was reminded of the privileged position I was in. Many of the workers I spoke to picked up every shift they could and had been cycling every day, for several hours, often through storms and snow, often on broken bicycles they couldn’t afford to repair, and barely earning enough money to make ends meet. They were exhausted, angry, and frustrated with their contracts and how the company took advantage of their desperation for work. They felt the company only cared about making money, rather than protecting their safety or fairly compensating them.

It seems little has changed for contingent workers – individuals not on the company payroll but providing independent services to the organisation, including contractors, freelancers, and consultants - in the six years since. Delivery drivers hired by Deliveroo and Uber Eats as independent contractors, for example, went on strike on Valentine’s Day demanding better pay and conditions, suggesting their earnings were cut back in 2022 and 2023.

So, why aren’t employers looking after their contingent workers, and how can they create a strong value proposition for employees who aren’t full-time?

When is a worker not a worker?

In November 2023, the UK’s supreme court made a landmark ruling, finding that Deliveroo riders could not be classified as workers, and were instead self-employed contractors, due to their ability to swap shifts with others when they could not or did not want to work. As such, the court ruled they do not have the right to collective bargaining for better pay and working conditions.

Deliveroo said the decision was “a positive judgment for Deliveroo riders, who value the flexibility that self-employed work offers.” The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), representing the Deliveroo riders, accused Deliveroo of using flexibility as justification for not providing workers with basic entitlements. “This dangerous false dichotomy between rights and flexibility is one that Deliveroo and other gig economy giants rely heavily upon in efforts to legitimise their exploitative business models,” IWGB said.

The question is also being answered differently across the world. A recent breakthrough in the EU legislation will see 5.5 million gig economy workers providing labour to companies like Deliveroo and Uber Eats being treated as employees.

The contingent workforce has traditionally been used reactively, either a project is lagging behind or someone has unexpectedly gone off sick

Amit Patel | Independent Consultant, former Global Head of Operations, Talent Acquisition at Expedia

Regardless of where your opinion sits on when an independent contractor becomes a worker, examples like the Deliveroo saga indicate that contingent employees, due to their flexible and ‘on-demand’ employment, are inherently more susceptible to poor working conditions and less likely to be a focus for HR teams when designing rewards and benefits programs or strategies designed to create a better employee experience.

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