Many high-skilled workers in the IT and pharmaceutical industries prefer operating as contractors rather than as staff members but want a better security net, a new survey of freelance professionals has found.
The study of 464 workers by Icon Accounting - which provides services to independent professionals and contractors - offers a sometimes counter-intuitive take on a growing and much-debated aspect of Ireland's workforce.
As more high-tech companies seek specialists for fixed-contract projects, not as staffers with full traditional benefits, it is often assumed that the workers themselves are forced through lack of choice into these less secure roles. But at least when regarding more lucrative contracts at multinationals, the survey suggests the reverse is often the case.
When asked whether they were happy working as a contractor, 52pc said "very happy", 44pc "happy", and less than 4pc "not very happy". Not a single contractor picked the bottom option, "unhappy".
Given a list of potential negatives of contract labour, 57pc chose "lack of job security", but the second-highest choice, on 25pc, was "no concerns". Just nine people, less than 2pc, noted a "drop in income". Around 8pc each picked "isolation from co-workers", and "paperwork and administration".
By contrast, they identified the main benefits of freelance contract work as "improved income" (65pc), "flexibility" (14pc), "independence from single employer" (12pc) and "variety of work" (9pc).
Above 80pc had worked for more than five years as a salaried employee before beginning their current role as a contractor.
Some 62pc said they planned to keep working as a contractor for "as long as possible", and 26pc for at least the coming year, while fewer than 12pc said they would "return to being an employee as soon as possible".
When asked whether contracting provided a "secure income stream", 70.5pc said it did, 24.5pc were not sure and 4pc did not feel confident it would.
Most of their contracts - 57pc - lasted six to 12 months, while 38pc lasted more than a year.
The survey's mood turned sour when the Government came up. Asked whether the State valued their contribution to the economy, 38pc said no, and just 24pc yes. The rest were not sure.
When asked what supports they particularly wanted to see established for contractors, "sick pay and other benefits" was the overwhelm-ing favourite, with 75pc support. Some 10pc wanted more access to HR and labour rights, and 15pc to training and upskilling opportunities.
Gerard Kiernan, managing director of Icon, said he and staff involved in compiling the report were all surprised by the survey respondents' extremely high satisfaction rate working as contractors.
"I hope it debunks the myth that 'iPros' (independent professionals) are forced into this line of work," he said.
"The fact that over 80pc of those who took part had spent five or more years as an employee beforehand also shows that they're well-placed to recognise the potential benefits of contracting life."