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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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The Parable of the Gig Economy

Originally, a gig was a spear for catching fish. Then it was a boat, then a horse-drawn carriage, then a punishment, and then a rock concert.

Now it’s a taxi ride, a meal delivery, a handyman task, or the provision of overnight accommodation. Mobile technology, particularly the smartphone app, is facilitating the rapid growth of a new service market – the gig economy – epitomized by such firms as Uber, Deliveroo, TaskRabbit and Airbnb.

The rise of such companies is meteoric. Estimates vary but as many as 5 million people work in the UK’s gig economy. London, famous for its black cabs, has over 30,000 Uber drivers. In the USA, independent contractors will soon comprise 40 percent of the workforce.

The pros and cons of the gig economy, however, are fuelling fierce debate. Many of its workers, or ‘gigsters’, report excellent job satisfaction. They value being their own boss, and flexible hours. Those in areas of high unemployment find their locality poses little barrier to finding work. Instant customer ratings allow gig providers to identify suitable individuals for specific tasks.

But the easy availability of gigs can stimulate overwork, as they are used to subsidize low-paid jobs. By regarding their workers as self-employed, gig companies are not obliged to provide them with benefits like insurance or sickness pay, whereas they do expect them to cover expenses such as the running of their own vehicles.

Fresh legislation is being developed but the issues cannot be reduced to legal ones about what counts as ‘self-employed’. The rise of the gig economy – and its discontents – is a modern morality tale. It demonstrates that if the freedoms of innovation and enterprise are enjoyed without their inherent responsibilities, the penalty is regulation.

A more ancient parable of the gigsters is the parable of the vineyard workers (Matthew 20:1-16). Its landowner, who goes several times to the market-place to find casual labourers, is not unlike gig company directors who repeatedly check their screens to see which couriers are available for which new gigs.

But what about that parable’s outrageous ending, in which those who had worked only one hour are paid the same as those who had worked all day? That also speaks to company directors today about the need to value, and be generous towards, the most vulnerable of suitable workers. For as the parable’s strapline warns, ‘the last shall be first, and the first shall be last’.


Peter Heslam
Peter is a senior fellow at the University of Cambridge and Director of Transforming Business.


  1. Though it is true that the government report on the gig economy showed that 60% of workers liked the flexibility as they were often second jobs or student jobs. The issue is with the 40% of the 5 million employed – a large number! They are trying to raise families on a wage which in real terms after costs of providing a vehicle is around £5 per hour. The denarius of New Testament times at least provided enough for rent and food.
    Much stronger regulation is needed to protect the 40%

    By David  -  24 Nov 2017
  2. wonderful application of an old parable – connecting the WORD with the World.

    By Sabine Burningham  -  24 Nov 2017
  3. Thanks. I’ll look at deliveroo riders differently now:)

    By Bruce Gulland  -  24 Nov 2017
  4. Excellent!

    By John Wates  -  24 Nov 2017
  5. Absolutely correct about the situation of exploited self employed.If we arenresaonsible managrs or employers we must uphold justice for the work force. Mary

    By mary quenby  -  25 Nov 2017
  6. Exploitation is one of the worst aspects of life today (as far as I can see it is world-wide). Somehow we have to find a way of living somewhere between humility (examples of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ) and righteous indignation (being prepared to overturn the tables of the money-makers in the Temple forecourt).What a task! Impossible without the limitless inspiration and power of the Holy Spirit in a life truly controlled by our living Lord.

    By Alan Bateman  -  27 Nov 2017
  7. I am not sure that the landowner in the parable, aka God, would be over pleased to be likened to a ‘gig company director’!

    The end of the parable is provocative rather than ‘outrageous’. It needed to be to make the point Jesus was intent on making.

    By Richard Gunning  -  19 Dec 2017

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