There are times when it seems the world as we know it is racing towards the abyss at a furious rate of knots. Now seems one of them – we have the chaos of Brexit, the mind-numbing horror-show that is Trumpism, and Danish politicians celebrating with cake when they put the boot into defenceless people.
Weal turning sour
On the other hand, it seemed as if a ray of light momentarily pierced the Stygian gloom the other day when Uber decided to throw in the towel in Denmark.
Some people will miss them – they have had over 300,000 users in the two and a half years in which the company has existed here. The idea of a mobile app that can hook you up with a part-time taxi driver in your vicinity is a good one.
However, like Airbnb, these apps are in the vanguard of the headlong rush towards the ‘gig economy’ and zero hours contracts. As well as being unfair competition for hotels and taxis – sectors that are highly regulated – they also provide a golden opportunity for ‘forgetting’ to pay tax and thus contribute to the common weal.
The rise of wage slavery
In the UK in March this year, there were 910,000 workers on zero hours contracts. These are an insidious practice whereby you have a contract but no minimum working hours guaranteed. You are, however, legally obliged to be available for work.
As they have no fixed income, it is nigh-on impossible for these workers to get bank loans to buy property. And as if being poorly paid wasn’t enough, they are forced to take their chances on the open market for rented accommodation and, in the no mercy world of supply and demand, generally pay through the nose for it.
Britain’s Trade Union congress estimates that the UK government loses up to 4 billion pounds a year in lost tax revenues from people in the ‘gig economy’ who are self-employed but paid very low wages.
After a long court battle, Ryanair was thwarted in getting its cut-price employment model accepted in Denmark. We can’t afford to take our eye off the ball – or off the free-market fanatics of Liberal Alliance who approve of such things.
Free market in freefall
For many years now, politicians in both the UK and Denmark have been increasingly in thrall to the free market and increasing economic liberalisation.
The mantra from the Thatcher/Reagan era is trotted out that constant growth is good, and the trickle-down effect of giving the super-rich even more disposable income will benefit society as a whole.
Lest we forget, liberalisation has also given us two bank crashes that taxpayers picked up the tab for. There is also precious little evidence that giving the very rich even more benefits society. Are we prepared to go down the low pay/self-employed/zero hour contract road as well?
It is obvious why employers like these schemes – they don’t have to pay tiresome things such as national insurance contributions for their workers or give them any paid holiday. However, it is less clear why anyone would like to work this way, given the choice. Ironically, people on these low-paid contracts are also told how lucky they are to be ‘self-employed’ – well, they have the freedom to starve at least …
If the union movement had not been emasculated in the 1980s and 90s in so many Countries, perhaps we wouldn’t be in this mess now. So look upon the demise of Uber as a wake-up call, Denmark, and let’s put a stop to this insidious trend – while we still have something left worth saving. What’s needed is less rampant greed and more good old-fashioned solidarity.