‘Self employment’ and piece rate exploitation

If you’re self employed, you’re not entitled to either the National Minimum Wage or the National Living Wage – https://www.gov.uk/national-minimum-wage/who-gets-the-minimum-wage There’s a well documented, steady ongoing rise in self employment – https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/articles/trendsinselfemploymentintheuk/2001to2015 Not all of this self employment is the voluntary throwing off of the shackles of working for someone else and starting off a lucrative business doing the kind of work you love doing. A fair chunk of what’s described as self employment is workers who’ve been made redundant struggling in a difficult economic climate to find a decent, well paid full time job, being ‘encouraged’ by various Jobcentre goons to ‘start their own business’ with the ever present threat of sanctions hanging there in the background if they don’t. Which basically means working on jobs such as door to door leaflet distribution and the like…

In my experience of ‘self employment’ since being made redundant in my mid fifties, amongst a variety of jobs I’ve undertaken, door-to-door leaflet distribution has been one of them. Sometimes, you might be lucky and get a door-to-door leaflet distribution job that pays by the hour albeit at the minimum wage. More often than not, you’re paid by the number of deliveries you make. The current going rate is around £35 per 1000 leaflets. Which if you’re working in a high density area such as Chafford Hundred where it’s fairly easy to achieve a rate of 250 deliveries an hour, you’ll be getting more than the minimum wage. However, if you’re working in the leafy suburbs of Southend where it’s hard graft getting to 150 deliveries an hour as you have at least thirty feet to walk from the pavement to each sodding front door, you’ll be getting a fair bit less than the minimum wage. Don’t get me started on the householders who don’t let you know they don’t want any junk mail until you’ve walked the thirty feet to their front door find a partially concealed notice informing you of the fact!

Welcome to the flexible labour force where more and more tasks are outsourced to self employed contractors as and when needed with the core commissioning company effectively abandoning any responsibilities to the workers involved. In a parasitic economy like the one we have to endure, it’s no surprise that the number of self employed workers is on the rise. The companies outsourcing the work have zero obligations for the welfare of the workers they use and discard at will which means their overheads are reduced while their profits are secured. It’s the self employed who take on all of the risks in the form of insecurity, precarity and exploitation.

As ‘self employed’ workers, we’re all supposed to be in competition with each other so there’s little chance of us ever getting together to collectively organise and fight for our rights – this is the ultimate neo-liberal wet dream. The established union structure, such as it is, is struggling to adapt to the changes in the workforce and the rise of precarious self employment. As ‘self-employed’ workers, we all need to firmly reject the idea that we’re in competition with each other and start exploring ways we can combine and collectively work to secure our interests. That however, is only a precursor to getting rid of a system that exploits workers and build one that’s more equitable, just and sustainable…

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