What does the launch of Uber’s new job app for freelancers mean for the gig economy?


Nick Woodward, CEO of ETZ Payments.

The news that ride-hailing giant Uber is testing new ground with an app to put casual workers in touch with employers has been met with great anticipation and wariness in equal measure. The app, which launches today, will initially only be available in Chicago for a time as Uber trail its efficacy, but based on Uber’s previous history, it is likely to be rolled out to the world’s major cities, including London, sometime in late 2020. 

According to Uber’s press release, “Uber Works” will allow cleaners, bar staff and warehouse workers to compare pay rates and sign up for shifts, with the core concept of providing low skilled participants in the gig economy easy access to myriad jobs with a few taps. But given that this app launch comes about in increasingly tough climate for Uber’s core ride-hailing business, to what extent can this app really impact the gig economy?

On the face of it, Uber Works looks as though it could indeed solve many issues that currently plague the gig economy. Some of the key problems faced by freelancers across the world are as follows; a lack of transparency around pay, poor working conditions, and misinformation concerning the location and scope of the jobs they sign up for. 

If this app can deliver on its intentions to provide clear, simple and most importantly, correct information which covers these three key areas, it could be a game-changer for low-skilled freelance workers the world over. Ensuring efficiency, ease of access to information and transparent payment terms, will see freelancers downloading the app as soon as possible. 

However, for higher-skilled workers, who have the ability to earn more in a freelance capacity, many are still put off by unsuitable payment structures and late payments. There are almost five million people working in a freelance capacity in the UK, but despite having contributed over £130 billion to the UK’s economy, roughly 2.6 million skilled freelance workers regularly miss bill payments due to not being paid on time and have had to turn to payday lenders due to unstable pay.

This drives many skilled freelancers or contractors to go back to their regular 9-5 positions, so that they are able to afford larger ticket items and have more financial stability; this results in the loss of thousands of pounds a year for themselves and for the economy, as they are often trading financial stability for overall earning power. 

What worries me is that the Uber Work offering seems to have no mention or intention of providing guaranteed and reliable payment – it has simply claimed to provide information on transparent payment. While the idea of transparent payment alone would certainly interest freelancers, if Uber Work is unable to deliver guaranteed, timely payments, the entire offering will ultimately be moot. Finding work through an app sounds appealing and convenient initially, but the digitalisation of the process may actually make it harder for freelancers to contest payment and campaign for their fair pay, should payments not be carried out efficiently and on time. If this turns out to be the case, the Uber Works app will collapse in short order. 

Addressing the issues surrounding the unpredictability and inconsistency of payment is therefore of paramount importance. For recruiters and agencies who rely heavily on freelance work for their business, this can be achieved by introducing reliable payment systems and software which automates the whole back office and payment processes, thereby allowing flexible workers to plan their finances in the same way permanent employees can. Same-day payment systems, such as those provided by ETZ, will ensure that freelancers are paid frequently and reliably, and will allow more people to thrive in a freelance capacity, while also encouraging more and more skilled and unskilled workers to step into the gig economy. 

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