OECD report highlights growing prevalence of ‘grey zone’ work

Study assesses policy responses of member states to precarious work arrangements

A Deliveroo cycle courier. Precarious work is no longer confined to “gig economy” jobs like couriering, but is now prevalent in professions such as teaching, health, university lecturing, telecommunications and IT, Tasc said.

A Deliveroo cycle courier. Precarious work is no longer confined to “gig economy” jobs like couriering, but is now prevalent in professions such as teaching, health, university lecturing, telecommunications and IT, Tasc said.

 

An OECD report has highlighted the growing prevalence of so-called “grey zone” workers, those caught between dependent employment contracts and traditional self-employment, in Ireland and elsewhere.

In a report entitled, Policy Responses to New Forms of Work, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) examined the policy actions taken by member states in response to new forms of employment often associated, but not exclusive, to the so-called gig economy.

Based on a survey of 44 states, the OECD’s report highlighted that governments were finding it increasingly difficult to identify workers in this middle zone.

A number of countries mentioned the importance of ensuring the correct classification so as to determine a worker’s access to rights, benefits and protections.

“The Irish response noted some of the consequences of false self-employment, including a loss of tax revenue, and for the workers themselves, reduced entitlements to social protection, absence of employment protections and diminished collective bargaining rights,” the OECD said.

The report also noted that in many cases firms and/or workers misclassified what should otherwise be an employment relationship as a relationship between a firm and an independent contractor.

Several gig economy employers have been in court for failing to acknowledge their workers as employees.

Ireland’s official labour force surveys for 2019 will include a module on work organisation and working time arrangements, which will look at issues like worker autonomy, worker flexibility and variable hours contracts.

The OECD also noted that the Irish Government intended to extend contributory unemployment benefits to the self-employed by the end of 2019. “This follows a trend of extending the benefits available to the self-employed, who had access to 80 per cent of all benefits at the time of writing, including access to means-tested unemployment benefits,” it said.

Another big issue centred around “ zero hour contracts”. The report noted that this had received significant media attention in several countries and that Ireland had moved to ban these contracts “in most circumstances”.

“Globalisation, technological progress and demographic change are having a profound impact on labour markets, affecting both the quantity and quality of jobs that are available, as well as how and by whom they are carried out,” the OECD said.

“The future of work offers unparalleled opportunities, but there are also significant challenges associated with these mega-trends,” it said.

“It is important that policy makers strengthen the resilience and adaptability of labour markets so that workers and countries can manage the transition with the least possible disruption, while maximising the potential benefits,” it added.

A recent report by think tank Tasc suggested the number of people surviving on low- or no-security jobs was becoming more widespread and this way of working has moved from the fringe to the mainstream.

Precarious work is no longer confined to “gig economy” jobs like couriering, but is now prevalent in professions such as teaching, health, university lecturing, telecommunications and IT, it said.