Freelancing Around the World
There are many types of freelancing work arrangements around the world. For example, “casual engagement” contracts used in Australia and Singapore, “zero-hour” contracts in the UK, “work on request” or “job on call” arrangements used in Germany, Sweden, and Italy.
As in the U.S., young people overseas, and in particular graduates who are struggling to find full-time employment, resort to casual working arrangements, as they are faced with no other viable option.
Let’s look at how the freelance system works in a few countries:
The UK Experience
Zero-hour contracts are contracts where someone may be asked to work at any time, but is only paid for the hours actually worked. At the same time, the company is under no obligation to provide work or indicate the number of hours for which the worker will be required to work.
These zero-hour contracts have been used in the UK for many years, however, their use has increased recently. In 2012 approximately 250,000 people were signed up to zero-hour contracts. As of 2013 that number had grown to an estimated 1,000,000 people.
In addition to a worker only being paid for the actual time worked, s/he is typically restricted from working for another company during any waiting period. This requirement is called an “exclusivity clause” and is included in zero-hour contracts.
Because of this “exclusivity” there is uncertainty about whether zero-hour workers are classified in law as having “employee” or “worker” status. Individuals with “employee” status are provided with a number of important legal rights and benefits which workers are not.
The Sweden experience
Since the 1990s, the number of alternative working arrangements and in particular, the number of “on-call” contracts, have increased in Sweden due to greater economic uncertainty in the market. In the past 10 years the use of on-call contracts more than tripled from 42,000 to 143,000.
As in the UK, it is not clear whether they are recognized under Swedish law, and exactly what their employment status is. In Sweden, however, most benefits are provided by the government not by the employer. Whether working or not, workers receive full benefits and companies have few obligations. This may be the reason why, in contrast to the general negativity towards zero-hour contracts in the UK, there is no stigma with “on-call” contracts here.
The German experience
In Germany, “work on request” arrangements allow workers to work for different companies at the same time. However, if a worker’s contract prohibits him/her from working for other companies, or requires the worker to carry out specific work at a specific time, it indicates that the worker is personally and economically dependent on the company. Therefore s/he is likely to be an employee rather than a worker.
Some European countries have tightly regulated alternative working arrangements. For example, in France, Germany and Spain, fixed-term employment contracts are only permitted under certain circumstances — a specific temporary task, the replacement of a temporarily absent employee, a temporary increase in workload or a seasonal job. Zero-hour contracts would not be legal since any employment contract (including temporary ones) must specify a minimum working time for each worker as well as pay.