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Tim Howell discusses why, in an increasingly gig-based economy, retaining your own workforce is still the best option

Every year, it seems that new phrases, words or expressions enter the common language – Brexit, Uberisation and Trumpism are just a few recent additions. One that I have heard a lot of in recent months is ‘gig economy’. Put simply, it means people getting paid based on the number of ‘gigs’ that they do – another take on what I’ve always known as piecework. The main difference is that gig workers aren’t directly employed and have no workers’ rights – or do they?

It appears it’s not that simple. Recent widely publicised cases relating to a well known plumbing company, an online transportation network, and an online food delivery company have changed that. These cases have centred around the workers’ status, and whether they are classified as self employed or employees of the company. The legal rights to benefits such as sick pay and paid annual leave are different for employees and for the self employed, and some companies have been clever, classifying their workforce as self employed contractors.

The paradigm shift towards the Uberisation of the labour force, enabled largely by technology, appears fraught with HR challenges – but this is not something I want to delve into now. Business owners should check their arrangements with their workforce carefully and, with many factors to consider (including employee status and tax implications), seek professional advice to support their approach in this fast-changing environment.

I started to think about how this could affect the landscaping industry (who hasn’t thought about Uberising their business?). My thoughts are clear: you can deliver a more consistent and safe landscaping service, while controlling your values and giving something back to your people, if you employ your own specialist workforce.

At Mitie, we’ve proven this model to be efficient and effective. I don’t see the benefit to our workforce, to the industry or to our customers in subcontracting the specialist services that our customers have asked us to provide. (There are, of course, exceptions for the selective and niche services that we don’t have the skillset to provide in house.)

Additionally, I’m committed to developing the people that work for our business. We provide secure roles, career development, opportunities to increase earnings, and a safe working environment with ongoing investment. I don’t believe this is possible in a fully subcontracted (or Uberised) environment, and recent news stories have highlighted the discontent it can produce among those providing the services.

The employment landscape has changed enormously over recent years, and our industry needs to move with the times. We cannot afford to be left behind as others move forward. History shows that businesses or industries who fail to adapt to change can fall into decline. We simply have to innovate.

But here’s the dilemma. For our industry to thrive, we need people. New people, with new ideas. People with talent, ambition, enthusiasm and a passion for what we stand for. People who feel that they belong to something, are valued, developed, and have security. In short, we need to ensure that our industry is a career choice, and not just ‘another gig’.

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