The arrival of Wolt presents a jarring implication
Gig work has become increasingly prevalent in recent years, offering an attractive means of making some extra money. And in the land of constant inflation, there is always more work to be done.
“Gig work has always existed in some form or another on the Icelandic labour market,” says Róbert Farestveit, an economist at the Icelandic Confederation of Labour (ASÍ). “And there is a reason to anticipate that its scope could increase in a few years’ time, for example with the entry of Wolt into the market.”
Indeed, the arrival of international delivery company Wolt to our shores in May marked a juncture in Icelandic economic history – it is the first significant actor operating in Iceland solely on the premises of the gig economy.
In essence, the gig economy rests on the presumption that workers are independent contractors, as opposed to salaried employees. One of the system’s key components is the ownership of tools and resources, which belong to the workers rather than an employer.
Róbert advises workers entering this type of contract to take time to carefully calculate their resource value. “You need to take into account the real cost of the operations. That can be a point of underestimation if you’re using your own bike or car, as the cost of wear and tear can be significant,” he says.
Regardless of the potential pitfalls these types of gigger-employer relationships can present, a more formalised, institutionalised gig economy in Iceland could usher in a more widespread phenomenon: the monetisation of our every fibre and every minute of our free time.
Monetising our spare time
In the last five years, we somehow survived a pandemic that set out to obliterate everything we knew about modern society. With more free time on people’s hands – a built in feature of avoiding the plague – focus was redirected to hobbies. For some, these avocations turned into vocations, as folks slowly realised their goods and services could be exchanged for money.
That development poses two questions worth examining. First, whether what were formerly acts of kindness towards the community are now being broadly perceived as opportunities to turn a profit. Instead of giving your neighbour a cup of sugar, will you sell it to them?
Second, if people seem to be working more overall by using their spare time for side jobs or monetising their hobbies, has the significance of a day job diminished?
According to Róbert, the data tells us the answer to both these questions is “no.” Despite the pandemic, the number of jobs in Iceland has increased in the last few years. “That applies to both part-time and full-time jobs,” he says. “Generally speaking, we aren’t seeing any type of structural shift,” he says.
Although there is no solid evidence of the proportion of side jobs in the Icelandic economy, Róbert suggests that it might be possible that people are taking up more side jobs than before. “We work fewer hours than before and, on average, less overtime. So it’s possible that some of that extra time is used to work a fun side job,” he concludes.
Back to the future
The ‘90s saw a surge of anti-work rhetoric, portrayed in movies like Fight Club and Office Space. The absolute worst thing a person could do was to work a steady 9 to 5. As the economy plummeted with the 2008 financial crash, that idea became an ideal to pursue.
We might be seeing a resurgence of anti-work sympathy, although on more libertarian grounds than the anarchist ideas that prevailed in the ‘90s. That is, people should stop working for the man and start working for themselves. However positive that may sound, it does nothing more than shift the exploitation of labour and resources somewhere else.
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