Some statistics for you. There are now more than 8.5 million freelancers in the EU; a growth of 12.5% since 2008. In the US, the numbers are higher still, with freelancers comprising 16.9 million workers, or 10.3% of the total workforce. A 2012 report by business services firm MBO Partners predicted that by 2020, a massive 50% of the private workforce would be working independently.
Whether you call them contractors, independents, free-rangers or sole-traders, freelancers are fast becoming the new full-timers. So why are they still treated as a temporary pit stop between salaried jobs?
On August 14, Hub Islington celebrated the conclusion of our 50 Days of Freelancing campaign with a thought provoking talk by Joel Dullroy – an Australian freelance journalist, international relations coordinator for Verband der Gründer und Selbständigen Deutschland (Freelancers and Founders Association of Germany) in Berlin, and author of the forthcoming Freelancers Rights Movement e-book.
Joel detailed the push (technology, doing the work you love) and pull (free market ideology, corporate squeezing) factors behind the rise of independent work, and looked at the emergence of a freelance movement through organisations such as Germany’s VGSD, the USA’s Freelancers Union, the UK’s PCG, and the European Union’s EFIP.
So, what is this burgeoning movement working for?
First, they want recognition that freelancing is a valid career path, and one that is here to stay. That while some workers may be pushed into freelancing for lack of another available option, others freelance because they feel it is the most effective way to use their skills and make a contribution. These freelancers aren’t looking to be channelled back into traditional employment; they want freelancing to be a viable long term career option.
Second, they want to be counted. We know that the freelance population is growing, but there is little clear data on how many freelancers are actually out there – and the data that does exist tends to be conservative in its definition of which independent workers are and are not freelancers.
Thirdly, if freelancers are a growing part of the workforce, they should be represented at the table alongside other groups such as employers and unions when governments are creating public policy. Independent workers need to be taken into account when it comes to conversations about social safety nets like healthcare, welfare, and parental leave.
But freelancers needn’t rely only on government to solve the issues that ail them. As naturally agile and innovative types, we can also be the architects of our own solutions. The Freelancers Union in the US, for example, serves its membership by providing them with health insurance, while the PCG provides members with insurance for up to £7500 if a client fails to pay.
Joel also spoke about some of the ways in which the freelancers movement can learn from other organisations such as tech start-ups, lobbyists, other grassroots activist groups such as the Precarious Workers Brigade and the Occupy Movement, and co-working spaces such as the Hub.
What’s next for the freelancers movement? Stay tuned to the Hub Islington blog, Facebook and Twitter pages to find out.