Tuesday 12 November 2019

The 'Gig Economy' creates greater inequality in our society


Fr Michael Commane - The Way I See It

Are you a regular user of the internet to buy goods, whether it be clothes, food, books, tools?

When Amazon first appeared I used it on a number of occasions. Some years ago I saw a programme on German television, which did not paint a pretty picture of how the company treated its workers, so I had second thoughts about using Amazon. Earlier this month a book was delivered to my door, not from Amazon. I was struck by the pressure the man delivering the book was under. He arrived in a non-marked white van, so obviously it was not an An Post delivery. But he was certainly in a hurry.

At this stage I imagine most people in Ireland have seen cyclists with Deliveroo logo winding their way through traffic, always in a hurry, delivering food to an address somewhere. I've been cycling on Irish roads a long time. I'm fairly well clued in to road safety and manners on the road.

It's clear Deliveroo cyclists are in a hurry. Every move they make is tracked and they earn a pittance. It's all part of the 'Gig Economy'. It sounds cool and sexy. It's great to get the book delivered to your door, the food on the table within minutes. But what about those who pack and deliver the books and food? Are they in trade unions, are they paying into pension funds and what sort of social insurance is protecting them for the rainy day? The 'Gig Economy' is all fine and dandy but is all the convenience and ease being paid for by the most vulnerable and the poorest in society?

The film 'Sorry We Missed You' will be released in Ireland on November 1. It is directed by Ken Loach and written by Paul Laverty. It's about the 'Gig Economy' and the effects of zero hour contracts on hard-pressed people. It shows how risk is transferred from company to worker.

It is hard to credit that Amazon boss Jeff Bezos spends great energy keeping trade unions outside his warehouse doors. In 2018 Forbes clocked Bezos as the wealthiest person in the world with a net worth of $112 billion. Bezos called his company after the South American river evoking the size of his new company, also because back then websites were listed alphabetically. It's ironic that these days the word Amazon has become a synonym for inequality in the world.

Also, right now in Rome there is a synod on the Amazon Catholic Church. The synod is receiving much publicity in church circles partly because of Pope Francis's reforming approach. Dominican bishop in Peru, David Martínez De Aguirre Guinea says on the synod: 'We hope that the synod will raise awareness that the Amazon region is not just a pantry to be raided for its resources, but a space to protect. We are an Amazon church, with the Amazon at its heart. We have to ensure the peoples of the Amazon have a stronger participation in the church, and that their contribution shows us the face of Christ and can enrich us.'

While the quote is about the people of the Amazon it has undertones about our 'Gig Economy'. Statistics published earlier this month in the United States, the so-called 'land of the free and home of the brave' show that inequality is at its highest in 50 years. Why?

There has to be something terribly wrong when eight men own as much as the poorest 3.5 billion on the planet.

Fingal Independent