The concept of a traditional 9-5 office job is one that is fast disappearing. Increasingly, ours is a society where we work remotely, jump from company to company and oftentimes work for ourselves. But is the current business climate still in step with this trend?
Joel Dullroy doesn’t believe so. He’s a journalist, business founder and organiser who has become prominent in the push to bring recognition for the rights of freelancers, and he believes that the digital economy requires new business models to make this happen.
SILICON ALLEE: How did you become involved in fighting for the rights of the self-employed?
JOEL DULLROY: My experiences as a freelance journalist showed me how unprepared society is for the current surge in non-traditional employment. So many of us work outside the old-fashioned concept of a job, but our systems have remained ignorant of this trend, with potentially disastrous effects on the individual and society. That’s why I got involved in the freelancers’ rights movement – I’m the coordinator of Freelancers Europe, a campaign to get European Union politicians to pay attention to the concerns of independent workers.
SA: Where do you think the problem lies?
JD: As a company founder, I saw that there are limited options when it comes to establishing a business, even if you want to do it in a more fair and inclusive way. For example, it is really difficult to start a web business as a cooperative, because it is impossible to get funding from investors. The models on offer are restrictive, so we need new models that allow businesses to operate more fairly.
SA: Your talk at re:publica is entitled ‘Can’t Pay? Don’t Play’. What is it going to be about?
JD: It’s a call for companies to start treating their freelancers, interns, and even users more fairly. It is also a call for those non-traditional workers to join the many movements that are developing to defend their interests.
Most digital businesses are run by armies of low-paid interns and freelancers. These companies need to start adhering to some basic principles about how they treat these workers, who fall outside of most employment regulations.
SA: Is there a growing awareness of this topic?
JD: We are seeing a flurry of organising activity around the issue of freelancers’ and interns’ rights. There’s the Freelancers Europe campaign is one example. Over in the US, the Freelancers Union is focusing on new ways for businesses to operate. They are encouraging more co-operative business models, and a revival of ideas such as the mutual society.
What is now needed is for these issues to come together. New business models that incorporate ideas from co-operatives can function in a way that is more fair to non-standard workers. We just need to use a bit more imagination.
SA: How can the situation be improved?
JD: The challenges presented by a growing freelance workforce are pushing both individuals and society out into unchartered territory. Our social systems weren’t designed with so many independent workers in mind. We have to find new ways to ensure these individuals are taken care of – paid fairly, given access to social support systems. We need new ways of doing business that account for the concerns of independent workers. Just like the motto for this year’s re:publica, we are very much heading Into The Wild, and we should join together rather than attempt to fend for ourselves.
SA: What role can digital society play in improving the situation?
JD: Digital society is the playground and workplace for most freelancers. It is also our picket line and samizdat. We can use online resources for our campaigns, at the same time as striving to reshape the models and operations of digital businesses.
Our current Freelancers Europe campaign is the first attempt to co-ordinate independent workers into an online action network. We can develop this into a powerful platform for communicating concerns, launching actions and building new forms of mutual support.