您现在的位置: 纽约时报中英文网 >> 纽约时报中英文版 >> 教育 >> 正文


更新时间:2017-10-16 19:07:27 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

How the gig economy creates job insecurity

The claim that the Inuit have 50 words for snow may be apocryphal, but it neatly illustrates the truism that our vocabulary becomes more extensive and nuanced for phenomena we encounter frequently.


The bog-standard job of the 20th Century was formal, full-time and permanent. Recently the lexicon for other kinds of jobs has expanded. Work can be temporary, fixed-term, seasonal, project-based, part-time, on a zero-hours contract, casual, agency, freelance, peripheral, contingent, external, non-standard, atypical, platform-based, outsourced, sub-contracted, informal, undeclared, insecure, marginal or precarious.


“Self-entrepreneurs” now do “Uber-jobs” – a term that arose (mimicking the earlier pejorative term “McJobs” for low pay/quality work) to describe the use of workers who are technically self-employed in the gig economy. The atypical job is no longer quite so atypical. Insecure work has become an important phenomenon.

当年的"个体户"现在都干起了"Uber-job"——这个词模仿了"McJob"(低薪、低品质的工作)的构词法,专门描述通过零工经济(gig economy)给自己打工的人所从事的工作。这种非典型工作已经不再那么不合常规。没有保障的工作已经成为一个重要现象。

Employment is a field where predictions of the future have been reliable, because the trends have been clear for some time now that growth in insecure employment has reached a point to become a subject of study. In the 1990s, management guru Charles Handy talked about the organisation of the future having a clover leaf design, with three kinds of human resource: full-time employees, casual staff and outsourced workers.

在就业领域,对未来的预测向来都很可靠,原因在于趋势已经明朗了一段时间,而没有保障的工作也已经发展到一定程度,甚至成为了许多学者的研究对象。20世纪90年代,管理大师查尔斯·汉迪(Charles Handy)提到未来的组织将会采用三叶草模式,总共使用三种人力资源:全职雇员、兼职人员和外包工人。

This threefold division was echoed in economist Will Hutton’s darker prediction of a society in which 30% of people were disadvantaged and marginalised, 30% led insecure lives and 40% were privileged.

这与经济学家维尔·胡顿(Will Hutton)的悲观预测不谋而合。他预计,今后的社会将有30%的弱势群体和边缘人士,30%过着没有保障的生活,还有40%属于特权阶级。

Visions of 21st-Century careers


Careers at the start of the 21st Century, we were told, would become “boundaryless” (hopping from project to project, not limited to one organisation), “portfolio” (multiple parallel jobs with multiple employers), and “protean” (with shapeshifting workers reinventing themselves as required).


Careers experts began to argue that the workers of the future needed to be ultra-flexible. Say goodbye to the job for life. Learn career management skills to dance nimbly to the tune of the new labour market. But this prescribed wisdom is problematic for four reasons.


First, job insecurity is has always existed; it was once the historical norm. The construction industry has always been project-based and seasonal like agriculture; seafarers were traditionally hired for a voyage. The entertainment industry was literally the “gig economy”. These are among the industries that routinely discarded workers when the job was done.


What is new is the extension of insecure work into industries where it was not previously common. This has been facilitated by new technology and the widespread use of contractual arrangements that seek to limit workers’ rights.


Second, the vision of a brave new world of portfolio, boundaryless, and protean careers was intended for professionals who could sell high-value parcels of work. It suits those with enough economic confidence to fly without the safety net of a regular income. These ideas were not dreamed up for the bicycle courier, the taxi driver or the peripatetic care worker, and certainly not for those trapped in a low-pay, no-pay cycle.


Third, the career management rhetoric lost sight of the distinction between is and should. Growth in atypical working patterns does not imply a moral imperative that workers should facilitate this development by shaping themselves into the desired mould. Particularly where some employers might be seeking to offload responsibility for sick pay, holiday pay, and travel between jobs.


Flexibility in human resources allows employers to scale operations up and down rapidly, and with minimal cost. This is not just about keeping wage bills down, but also about employers reducing levels of economic risk, while workers increase their share of risk bearing. The challenge of global competition may be inevitable, but an unquestioning compliance with employer regimes for sharing wealth and risk is not.


Finally, new technology facilitates rapid allocation of work tasks. At the same time it can dismantle jobs into discrete micro-tasks for which labour can be bought and sold remotely. In doing so it may have the side effect of de-personalising the relationship between worker and supervisor and removing workers from social interaction with their fellow staff. A lifestyle of isolated and isolating tasks make it harder to forge a strong sense of social identity.


Insecurity in the UK


The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices is intended to signal that the UK government has woken up and smelled the coffee. It advocates the introduction of a new “dependent contractor” status for workers, but for the most part its recommendations are timid. Recently, the gig economy’s biggest fish, Uber and Deliveroo, were taken to task by MPs. But so far it has been in employment law disputes, and not in Whitehall, that things have moved on.

《泰勒现代工作实践评估》(Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices)旨在表明英国政府已经清醒过来,看清了事情的本质。它提倡为劳动者引入新的"从属承包人"(dependent contractor)的身份。但在大多数情况下,它提出的建议都缺乏魄力。最近,作为零工经济领域最显著的代表,Uber和Deliveroo都遭到了议员们的批评。但到目前为止,主要还是劳动法层面的纠纷,政府并未介入。

Insecure workers may have to adapt. But they can resist too, although it is not easy. They are not well placed to afford trades union membership/, being troublesome can lead to reduced work offers, and their identification with a trade may be limited. Nonetheless in the early skirmishes of what is likely to be a long-running social conflict it is the unions that have emerged with initial success.


The latest example is McDonald’s, where staff at two fast food outlets have just taken the unusual step of striking to demand better pay, more secure contracts and union recognition.


This is not just an issue of workers’ rights. When people become locked into long-term lifestyles of insecure work, it interacts with other issues. With the high cost of housing, it traps individuals in a life cycle limbo of dependency on parents. There are reasons to believe that poor quality jobs with insecure work patterns have harmful effects on health. These detriments fall disproportionately on the those in the least prosperous socio-economic groups.


As for the way we educate young people about careers, exhortations to flexibility are good only up to a point. We need to equip workers of the future to collaborate to promote and safeguard their interests, and give them a fair chance to redress the power imbalance in contemporary labour markets.