Freelancing in the UK, Part 3: "The Voice of Freelancing"
The last item on my tour of freelance London was a visit with the PCG (Professional Contractors Group), "the voice of freelancing in the UK." They are, as far as I can see, the only freelancers group that is as formally structured, staffed, and financed an organization in the world besides Freelancers Union. They are based just outside of London and their core freelancers are in IT and engineering. As soon as we began talking about freelancers, the same familiar issues came up: taxes, episodic income, the need for government to count independent workers. Like Yogi Berra used to say, Deja vu all over again. As many of you know, the Conservative–Liberal Cameron government is massively cutting government's budget. But as I said yesterday, the protests here seem to be going more or less unreported. This has only further convinced me that in the face of shrinking government support, we “mere” citizens are going to have to find new ways to provide for ourselves and each other. One way the freelancers of the PCG have been working to protect each other is through political action. PCG is working to shape legislation having to do with what we in the US call misclassification (where a company identifies a worker who should be considered an employee as a freelancer, or where a freelancer is classified as an employee—there can be serious financial consequences in both cases). The PCG’s legislation, called IR35, seeks to protect vulnerable misclassified workers and evolve British government to the needs of this changing workforce. We both adamantly agreed that we need, in each of our countries, an accurate count of independent workers both to show how our employment patterns differ from manufacturing workers’, but also to show how much value the independent workforce adds to the economy. I am increasingly convinced that if we counted independent workers for real, we could show what is really happening in American employment/unemployment. What we'd find is tremendous under- and unemployment, but also significant gig work. If we included these gigs when we measure employment, we'd see that this work is keeping many household bove water. Perhaps the most exciting part of my visit was learning that the PCG has been bringing together other freelance groups across Europe. They need to do this because they must respond the labor and workforce policies put forth by the EMU (Economic and Monetary Union, or Eurozone) which affect them. They now have freelance groups in Holland, Australia, France, Italy and Ireland. Freelancers Union will join these conversations, and rumor has it that Canadian freelancers will join the mix. Soon we may see the beginning of an international freelancers organization—and Asia, Africa, and the Middle East will need to be added. Next stop: Skoll World Forum, to seek out fellow social entrepreneurs and new-mutualists. Sara Horowitz is founder and Executive Director of Freelancers Union.