Unions 'misread freelancers as wayward workers'

A co-author of the Freelancers Manifesto has spoken out about why the rapid growth in freelancing has implications for individuals, society and, most of all perhaps, those claiming to represent them.

In a blog post for the RSA, which estimates that freelancers will outnumber government workers by 2018, Joel Dullroy said unions have been “caught off guard” by the historic rise in self-employment.

Dullroy, a campaign manager at Freelancers Europe, acknowledges that in Britain many of the newly self-employed earn less than the minimum wage, which suggests that groups representing workers do have a part to play in bettering their pay.

Indeed, while the number of self-employed workers in Britain has grown by almost half a million since 2008, more than half of them earn £12,000 a year or less. In addition, traditionally poor pensions provision among such workers seems to leave them vulnerable.

But Dullroy, a freelancer himself, is clear that it’s not unions -- “the traditional guardians of the working class” -- who appear ready to represent these independent workers or rally on their behalf, partly because they don’t understand them.

He pointed out that at a conference in Berlin in March, unions representatives from around the world evidenced such misunderstanding when they were asked to discuss how to address freelance workers.

In fact, most of the union representatives expressed a desire to simply subsume self-employed freelancers, nine million of whom are estimated to be circulating in Europe, into the ranks of the traditional, 9-to-5 workforce.

Dullroy reflected: “As long as unions continue to misread freelancers as wayward workers, they will fail to have any relevance for this demographic.

“Although they may have deep concerns about their finances, their social safety net and their prospects in old age, survey after survey finds the majority of freelancers have no desire to return to a company job.”

He believes that freelancers ultimately want to be represented by a body that can “articulate a balanced vision of personal freedoms, political agency, government support and mutually-created social protections”.


Apr 3, 2014
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