Progressively Speaking: Competing needs in the Gig economy

Progressively Speaking: Competing needs in the Gig economy

Rabbi Miriam Berger takes a topical issue and applies a Reform Jewish angle. This week, helping workers in the Gig economy

I hold two conversations in my head and wonder how we can ever legislate for both of them.

The first was an Uber driver in Florida. The fact that we were in America meant we were on first name terms with Ahmed within minutes of him picking us up and soon understood that he was a medical student using these fares to subsidise his studies.

He flicked on the app as soon as he had a break between classes and drove late into the night. I admired him for doing what he needed to do to chase his dreams of ultimately becoming a doctor.

Who would begrudge him the flexibility he needs to maximise his work time around his study?

Yet I also once unashamedly accosted a Deliveroo cyclist in Bournemouth town centre. He looked exhausted propped up at the side of the road with his bike waiting for the next order and I, in a most un-British way went over to talk to him.

It was a while ago when Deliveroo was in its infancy and I wanted to know how the business model worked when the customer pays so little for delivery.

I learnt two things; firstly that some people can work in the most exhausting and gruelling way and never inquire how far up the tree you have to be to see the serious profits and secondly that this guy (we were in England and therefore far from first name terms) was sleeping on a friend’s floor, because private landlords don’t want to take the punt on how many deliveries you may or may not make that month and therefore won’t risk you not having enough money to pay the rent.

So how on earth do you legislate to enable one person to work as flexibly as they need to earn that extra cash, which makes ambition possible, while others are not caught in a web of financial uncertainly which paralyses them?

The key is surely to ensure companies build in the safeguards which imply the duty of care that Deuteronomy 24:15 warns us of when we are told: “On this day you should give his wages, the sun should not set on it, because he is a poor man and his life depends on it…”.

The Torah explains that our workers need the securities that a hard day at work should entitle them to and it’s that we need to be striving for.

Rabbi Miriam Berger is rabbi at Finchley Reform Synagogue

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