What might secure working conditions in the gig economy look like?
Amelie has been at the forefront of the battle for better working conditions throughout her career. After four years at art school learning graphic design, secure work was hard to find. Graduating in 2021, there was a glut of people with her skills and a shortage of entry level positions. It wasn’t that her skills weren’t in demand, though; rather that many companies took advantage of the low rates offered by people just like Amelie on gig working platforms.
Over a year of working short, uninspiring, low-paid jobs, Amelie chatted with other freelancers and some of her old university friends. Through these conversations, she mapped how several major ad agencies working for some of the world’s largest corporates relied almost entirely on poorly paid freelancers, saving millions in the process. She contacted F-U, the Freelancers’ Union, and got the story published in the People’s Press, a national network of citizen-driven newspapers.
F-U had been set up in the early 2020s because established trade unions were still disconnected from the challenges raised by new working practices. The old unions’ arsenal of campaign tools couldn’t achieve much when freelancers had so little leverage over potential clients.
There had been lots of activity outside the trade unions, led by individuals working together and by grassroots campaigns. Worker-led petition sites had improved conditions for some employees. Gig workers had begun to work in teams, enabling them to bid for larger projects and demand better rates from clients while also drawing in the most skilled workers and creating junior positions for those early in their careers. Collective action was even delivering in areas where work could only be conducted by individuals, like taxi driving and personal care, through the growth of platform cooperatives using open-source software.
However, the platform behemoths’ business models strong. Many benefitted from the vocal minority of freelancers who truly enjoyed gig work for its flexibility - and who willingly talked about its perks on social media. The 2020s had seen huge steps forward for gig workers, but there was more to be done. In 2024, many of the grassroots activists from across Europe who’d previously been working beyond any trade unions came together to found F-U.
Amelie’s story with the People’s Press went viral, and the responses helped her understand the real challenge for freelancers in the gig economy: predictability of income. The feast and famine approach was playing havoc with family lives, the ability to rent or buy a home, and peoples’ mental health. Managing multiple jobs made this worse and, particularly for those on lower pay, it was impossible to build up a sufficient buffer for even the smallest unexpected costs.
In 2027, Amelie joined F-U to advocate for a solution. She realised F-U’s calls for a universal basic income were futile – there simply wasn’t the political will, or the money, to bring it about. Once she was an F-U member, she could use their online platform UnDodd to lobby, and drum up support for, a minimum income. She proposed a guaranteed minimum monthly salary for gig workers, so in “famine” months gig work income would be topped up by the state to ensure earnings reached this threshold level.
With thousands of supporters, F-U committed to supporting Amelie’s idea. Using the Qarar, the national citizens’ jury platform, they shaped a proposal for the Irregular Working Fund (IWF). The IWF was a ringfenced budget supported by a levy payable by gig economy employers, used to cover gig workers’ guaranteed income, sick leave and time away for anyone who wanted to retrain.
At the same time, F-U commissioned Citizens’ Agency to develop a platform, called Isikathi, which allowed gig workers to record and verify hours worked and income earned across different gig platforms. With 30 million members across Europe, F-U also used its clout to get gig platforms to sign up to principles of transferability and interoperability, meaning gig workers could carry their reputations, earnings and other data between platforms.
In the hot, dry summer of 2028, the government finally committed to the IWF as part of its new digital strategy. F-U’s platform, Isikathi, already had 25 million members in Europe and the top five gig platforms had all signed up to F-U’s principles.
The IWF was approved the same year by a citizens’ jury, and came into force in 2029, improving the lives of thousands of workers. In 2030, Amelie got her first full-time job in graphic design, earning more cash but losing some flexibility. The same month, despite having left the world of freelancers, Amelie was delighted to accept the honorary presidency of F-U in recognition of her work.