Uber and the future of work

The New York Times has an interesting piece exploring the impact of Uber’s business model on work and employment in the future:

The larger worry about on-demand jobs is not about benefits, but about a lack of agency — a future in which computers, rather than humans, determine what you do, when and for how much. The rise of Uber-like jobs is the logical culmination of an economic and tech system that holds efficiency as its paramount virtue.

“I’m glad if people like working for Uber, but those subjective feelings have got to be understood in the context of there being very few alternatives,” Dr. Reich said. “Can you imagine if this turns into a Mechanical Turk economy, where everyone is doing piecework at all odd hours, and no one knows when the next job will come, and how much it will pay? What kind of private lives can we possibly have, what kind of relationships, what kind of families?”

The on-demand economy may be better than the alternative of software automating all our work. But that isn’t necessarily much of a cause for celebration.

The on-demand economy Manjoo outlines sounds hellish.

This quote in particular resonated with me:

“After interviewing many workers in the on-demand world, Dr. Reich said he has concluded that “most would much rather have good, well-paying, regular jobs.”

Rather than allowing jobs in the twenty first century to become casualised and atomised, I think we would do well to aim for decent, well paying jobs.

One road block to this atomization of labour is labour-protection laws in the United States. The Verge is reporting that there are a couple of class-action law suits in the United States at the moment against Uber and Lyft. The class-action suits are trying to argue that the people who drive around for these companies are actually employees, which matters because employees get access to a range of benefits (such as petrol expenses) which Uber and Lyft drivers don’t currently have. It will be interesting to see what happens with these cases!

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