With so many people wanting flexible work and more control over their hours, as well as the rise in insecure work, it’s only natural that temp agencies would adapt to the new gig economy.
Hyr is a new temp agency that operates through an app promising quick, fill-in last minute positions. This allows businesses, mostly in the hospitality industry, to quickly find someone to replace employees who call in sick. As freelancers, we personally understand that this type of work opens employees up to the potential of abuse.
Hyr takes an already precarious workforce into even more precarious territory. Managers and business owners may under-staff, knowing they can turn to Hyr for any last-minute replacements at a lower rate and without benefits. It strips these temporary workers of the ability to create bonds -- let alone unions -- with their coworkers.
The transparency of the app also leaves workers open to exploitation and discrimination. You can set your hourly rate, but it’s not clear how much Hyr is charging the employer. You’re given no instructions about tax deductions or who’s paying them. Plus, the ‘suggestion’ to have your photo, along with a link to your instagram and twitter account to complete your profile is ripe for discrimination based on protected statuses such as race, disability, LGBTQ status, or even your political views, such as a support of unionized workplaces.
However, because of rising inflation against stagnant or falling wages, more people are looking to temporary or side jobs to supplement their income. As a union for freelancers, we understand the complexities of our current labour market, and strive to protect precarious and low income workers from exploitation. We also know that this type of call-in shift work is predominantly staffed by marginalized populations, and is often low wage work at or just above minimum wage.
Hyr says that they address a need from both a staffing and worker perspective for this type of work. This is something temp agencies have said for decades. There will always be someone calling in sick, and the alternative most often employed in hospitality and service industry has been to hire more people at fewer hours so that people will be desperate and eager to take last minute call in shifts.
As freelancers, we know that flexible employment is prefered, and even required, by certain people. If someone has to manage chronic pain, picking up short term positions when their pain levels are manageable allows them freedom and control over their situation. The solution is not to eliminate this type of work, but to allow more flexible employment options that are covered under employment legislation, supported by a strong social safety net, and empower workers.
Currently, there is little stability and a precarious future being nurtured in the gig economy. The more desperate the people are, the worse our deals will be. It doesn’t need to be this way. We urge all gig workers, whether you’re working through Uber or Lyft or Hyr or any other, to band together and form a union. You are providing the labour that these companies need, and together, you will be in a stronger position to negotiate. Push for regulations and legislation that make your life more secure. Push for wages that allow you to sustain a family and plan for a future. Push for stability while still allowing yourself the flexibility you want or need.