Phrase of the day: the gig economy

Last Saturday night I went to see some old friends from France playing in a great rock’n’roll band called Chrome Reverse. They’re a four-piece band who play wild 50s-style rockabilly, and this was the very first time they’d ever played in London. They were headlining at a club night called Weirdsville that’s held in an old Irish pub, The Fiddler’s Elbow, near Camden Town. It’s got a late licence, so can stay open till three; the DJs play great music and it’s a great little venue to see gigs in. For many years, the only meaning of the word gig that I was familiar with was this one, where a gig is a small live music concert played in the back room of a pub or a small club somewhere. I went to tons of gigs as a teenager, and would often come out raving that that was one of the best gigs I’ve ever been to in my life!

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Over recent years, I’ve started using the word gig to describe speaking engagements or teacher training sessions I’ve been asked to do. If, for instance, I got asked to go and talk at a conference and had my flight and accommodation covered, but wasn’t otherwise getting paid, I’d nervously ask other speakers I’d meet at the event if this was a paying gig for them. If other writer / teacher trainer friends got asked to go and run a course somewhere for a couple of weeks and were earning good money for their work, they’d often say it was a good gig, or a nice little gig, or a well-paid gig.

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This idea of a gig being any kind of short-term work that you get paid for has become increasingly common. In fact, it’s so common nowadays that we’ve even started talking about the gig economy – the part of the economy populated by people like me, people who are basically self-employed and who do little bits of freelance work for different companies here and there. In general, we only get paid for specific tasks. None of us are on long-term contracts, none of us get sick pay or holiday pay and none of have any job security! We live from pay cheque to pay cheque or, when times get really hard, from hand to mouth!

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On the plus side, of course, this kind of employment offers greater freedom and flexibility. If I want to just take off for a couple of weeks and go away somewhere or simply have a break, I can – so long as I have enough spare cash. However, the gig economy also leads to financial uncertainty, stress and the further erosion of workers’ rights. And, of course, finding a balance between freedom and security can be a very tricky thing.

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  • Have you been to see many gigs? What’s the best gig you’ve ever been to? Why?
  • Is there a big gig economy where you live? What kind of jobs are people doing in it?
  • Do you like the idea of being self-employed and doing the odd bit of freelance work here and there? Why? / Why not?
  • Can you think of any other pros or cons of the gig economy?