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Hot topic: The evolving gig economy

Are we witnessing the death of the gig economy as traditional businesses try to join in?

Uber and Addison Lee are both facing significant legal challenges to their operating models and treatment of workers. Gig economy startup TaskRabbit has been bought by IKEA. Do these events herald the death of the gig economy? Or will it continue to evolve and survive?

Caroline Philipps, an associate at law firm Fladgate, says:

"Big names in the gig economy continue to challenge legal findings that undermine the way their businesses are run. Such challenges are likely to be welcome to users, as demand for these services remains high – the petition against TfL’s decision to withdraw Uber’s licence was the fastest-growing petition in the UK this year. Equally, many of the people who make their living working in the gig economy do so because they value the flexibility it affords them to work when they choose. What seems clear is that as there is a demand for these services, despite these legal interventions, there is every reason to believe that the gig economy will survive. It is, however, undergoing some (arguably much-needed) reform, which may actually encourage more traditional business models to adopt some of the low-cost, personal and flexible service elements of the gig economy that so appeal to the public."

Ursula Huws, professor of labour and globalisation at the University of Hertfordshire Business School, says:

"One of the great business innovations was the discovery that paid employees’ productivity could be improved dramatically through self-service. By offering cheapness, people could be persuaded to weigh their own vegetables in the supermarket, withdraw cash from machines in the wall, and even assemble their own furniture after waiting in line at IKEA. But all this takes time, and in the 21st century this has become ever-scarcer as more of us work longer and more irregular hours. So along comes the next innovation: the gig economy, in which all that unpaid consumption work is turned back into paid work again. Not only can we have food delivered to our couches but those couches can also be assembled by paid workers. IKEA’s purchase of TaskRabbit has brought the wheel full circle. Let’s hope it treats the workers well."

Check back tomorrow for part two of this hot topic