Gig economy or full-time jobs?

By Xavier Kong

THE idea of freelancing is nothing new to Malaysians, especially now with the advent of the gig economy. However, while gigs with companies such as Grab and FoodPanda see a clear-cut system in place, what about those who offer their services in different areas of expertise?

This is where the gig-matching platform comes in. Over the past decade, there has been a rise in the number of platforms on which freelancers can advertise their skills and wares. International platforms, such as Freelancer, Fiverr and Upwork, have been around for years, standing as places where small, one-off jobs, or gigs, can be transacted. 

Jobseekers can post their contact information, set of skills for hire, along with the rate at which they charge, while clients can sift through the talents for one who meets their budget and job scope.

This stands as a far cry from the days when freelance gigs were offered through word of mouth, or through a network of contacts, which was time-consuming and did not really lend itself to a smooth process. The issue of accountability was a matter of concern as well.

What about the times when clients would approach freelancers and ask them to do a gig for exposure? The line of “you won’t be paid for this gig, but it will give you great exposure” has been receiving its own share of mockery and criticisms in recent social media. 

Content creators have likened this to paying for groceries or bills with an amount of exposure, and this is blatantly unfair to the content creators who have spent time, effort, and resources honing their craft.

The platforms themselves have been embroiled in their own share of scandals, usually by favouring the client more than the talent. Take Fiverr for example. In 2014, the Tel Aviv-based gig-matching platform came up with an ad that said clients were being ripped off for paying more than US$5 for design work, with the tagline: “You’re paying too much for design”.

This caused an uproar in a community that was already being pushed down and being paid in exposure, as it were, and sparked debates between the affordability of businesses and overpaying or underpaying talents. The message also undermines graphic design talents, with the underlying message that it is not worth the money spent to utilise their skills.

The talents themselves have their own gripes when it comes to the platforms, as a common practice is for the platforms to extract a fee from the amount transacted between client and talent. However, this can come up to exorbitant amounts, sometimes up to 20% of the amount agreed upon between the client and the talent, according to a report by Cryptoground.

Still, these platforms now represent a means for clients and talents to connect. Not only do clients get a wider selection with a better hope of finding a match to their needs, gig-seekers are able to pitch their skills to a wider audience.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on who you are asking, the fact remains that both talents and clients have to be discerning regarding the platforms they choose to operate from. One point to note would be the difference between gig-matching platforms and job-matching platforms.

According to ex-politician now-entrepreneur Rafizi Ramli, on his new venture, adnexio’s, ad neither local job-seekers nor employers are choosy with regards to work or employees. This comes from “over 300,000 user interactions” that he had seen on his job-matching platform that was launched four months ago.

“We have seen candidates willing to switch jobs at an equal (sometimes lower) pay; we have seen employers choosing fresh graduates quite readily. I am inclined to believe that a large part of the problem is about the job-matching marketplace,” said Rafizi.

But the fact of the matter remains that this would probably work only for full-time positions and would hardly apply to the freelancing community.

Still, the gig economy has risen to the point that the Pakatan Harapan government has acknowledged it lends some food for thought. Would it really be possible for the world to go back to the days of yore, when everything was sort of gig-based and people were not employed but worked piecemeal jobs? 

Or would the world keep going on this same trend where the benefits of full-time employment would continue to outshine the lustre of working from gig to gig? – Feb 7, 2020

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