European Freelancers Week is here. How will you cheer on self-employment?
Although some quite specific UK stats covering a very extraordinary time, very recently, tell a different story, freelancing in Europe has experienced a major boom in the last few years.
On the continent, many of the people fuelling that boom are new freelancers who lost or had to stop their permanent employment during the Covid-19 pandemic. These individuals have stepped away from the 9-to-5 because they saw that freelancing looked like it would bring them more money or a more fulfilling way of working, including a better work-life balance.
A covid awakening
Whatever the motivations to ‘go it alone’ were, freelancers across Europe quite quickly started to realise how marginalised they truly were as sole traders, once the pandemic took root. This is where the European Freelancers Week 2021 now steps into play, officially from Monday October 18th.
Now in its sixth year, #EFWeek will give freelancers an opportunity to speak up and speak out, individually but also collectively with one voice, for one week, to outline and immortalise what they truly believe in. And not tin-eared to the challenges of 2020 and 2021, the event this year focuses on collective action to support civil rights and protections for self-employed people, to head off and condemn marginalisation of the very workers which economies across Europe need to recovery from the last 24 months, writes Jeannine van der Linden, a director of the European Coworking Assembly. All we need is you to get involved and show your support for freelancing!
The importance of a freelance community
Communities create support structures for those who work in the same or similar sectors. As a community, we can lend our support to newcomers and also those who have been in the freelance game for years. A community offers connections, collaborations, co-workings, and a sense of belonging.
Within the freelancing sector, coaching, training, and skills development are usually growth dynamics that a freelancer has to pursue themselves. Unlike fully-employed teams, the self-employed don’t have people tasked with looking ahead and finding courses or training to enhance their skills for what's coming on the horizon.
The truth is that freelancers have to first find these courses and events, and secondly find the time (and resources) to attend them. So demonstrating against, or contributing to the debate around the professional development disadvantage freelancers suffer from, could be the focus of your own European Freelancers Week event for 2021.
As well as up-skilling, pricing troubles freelancers
One further thing that many freelancers struggle with when they first start is pricing.
The tendency to price services and goods below market value is strong. Many self-employed people believe that they can offer the same service at lower rates than traditional businesses yet still make a profit. Technically, you can, yes! But freelancers often end up missing or cutting costs and living with the bare minimum -- ‘just to start out’ they might tell themselves. But it is easier to lower your prices with existing clients, than it is to raise them -- and even newcomer freelancers should also be afforded things like vacations, savings, and the odd treat! And that’s before serious financial commitments come into the equation, like pensions, which freelancers also need to look at – again, single-handedly, in their own time and without the support of an employer.
The challenges with skills and developing oneself, and pricing and pricing oneself, is why community is important. It offers guidance and the chance to grow. When a community stands together and speaks with one voice to other stakeholders, like governments and larger businesses, change can be achieved. It doesn’t take a lot of people to start a movement. It takes between two and five people who really want to see a change, and they can make it happen.
Those who made European Freelance Week happen
Sadly, two of the founders, Matija and Francesca, both were diagnosed with cancer and passed away in recent years.
The European Coworking Assembly then took over the #EFWeek movement, partly as we were already an instrumental part of it. We saw the value of what the founders were fighting for and wanted to celebrate their lives and achievements, by keeping #EFWeek alive.
Diverse, but also fragmented
One thing that was clear to the founders of #EFWeek is that irrespective of their numbers, employees have unions, especially in Europe. And if they don't have unions, they at least have some sort of ‘groups’ where they can talk about things and solve problems, collectively. In many places, freelancers don't have any of that support structure.
It is not because people just want to hurt freelancers, or leave them at sea! But currently, the landscape is splintered in terms of getting the interests of freelancers taken care of. This is because as a group, freelancers are diverse in their interests and needs. Even within Europe, the interest in self-employment as a way of working varies from one freelancer to the other. Nevertheless, there are things that all freelancers have to deal with that permanent employees simply don’t have to. The unengaged freelancers -- passive in their calls to support atypical workers, should remember that!
Vulnerable, overlooked and deserving
Furthermore, it is actually important to realise that freelancers are the only class of workers who can be freely discriminated against with significantly fewer legal repercussions. In many ways, they are excluded from packages of rights, and in Europe they regularly risk being discriminated against on the basis of age, gender, race, nationality, or religion. Too often, we -- as a society -- are unaware of these inclusivity issues. Governments have become familiar with controlling relations between business and workers through employment. But wage and hour laws do not typically apply to freelancers, for example, nor do pensions and other statutory benefits, which permanent employees too often take for granted.
That is how the European Freelance Week manifesto came to be. We want authorities and governments, large and small businesses, to grapple with these questions and really come to understand the needs of freelancers – including their basic rights. One thing needs to be made clear to all in officialdom
Freelancers are not just normal employees who simply don’t get paid a regularly salary like most in the workforce.
And any government’s bid to support such self-employed workers needs to realise that an identical set of civil, societal or workplace rights as permanent workers just won’t cut it. Freelancers are different and need their own set of rights and safeguards -- tailored to their less conventional needs, which can’t just be accommodated for from the existing template on rights, protections and benefits in place for permanent employees.
This is how you can get involved in EFW
This is YOUR invitation to be part of the #EFWeek.
Create or join insightful events that take place over the week of Oct 18th to bring together like-minded freelancers, across Europe. Share insights, offer tips, pick up tricks, experiment, and give guidance to your fellow freelancers in the sector.
So why not connect, collaborate, and celebrate and importantly, rise to the occasion and speak up against the marginalisation of freelancers and the freelance sector. Because of the digitalisation of the event this year (the same as last year due to the pandemic), freelancers right across the world are able to engage in our programme, even if we are only meant to be a Europe-orientated initiative! In that sense, digitisation creates the opportunity for the EFW community to be greater than it has ever been. So host your own event where you get to share your ideas and tips, or attend our events listed on our website. Happy European Freelancers Week, FreelanceUK readers!
8th October 2021