A New Online Platform Could Help Gig Economy Workers Secure Benefits
The National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), an organization aimed at supporting domestic workers, is using an online platform to help gig workers secure benefits, including life insurance and disability insurance, according to Wired. The platform could function as a template for how all workers in the “gig economy” might one-day secure benefits for themselves.
Large numbers of Americans are choosing to become part of what’s known as the gig economy instead of opting for traditional full-time employment. These gig workers work temporary, flexible jobs as independent contractors or freelancers. The proliferation of Uber/Lyft, Task Rabbit, and Etsy make it easy for people to participate in the gig economy, in addition to full-time employment or instead of it. In 2016, researchers estimated that 25 percent of the American workforce did some type of independent work; by 2020, they predict that figure could rise to be as high as 50 percent.
State and federal laws force companies to offer full-time employees certain benefits, like health insurance and paid sick leave. But because they don’t have just one full-time employer, gig economy workers must secure (and pay for) their own benefits. Many choose to avoid the process altogether, which can put them in a vulnerable position, for instance, if a worker without disability insurance gets into an accident, they could find themselves without a source of income, perhaps indefinitely.
To help address this problem, the NDWA’s innovation arm, Fair Care Labs, has begun testing Alia, an online platform created to help house cleaners secure “portable benefits,” which are benefits that stick with employees as they move from job to job.
First, the worker asks each of their clients to make a contribution to their Alia account (for example, $5 per house cleaning). Each contribution is then translated into Alia credits. The worker can then use their pool of Alia credits from all their employers to buy the benefits of their choice through the app, presumably far simpler than trying to go through each benefits company directly. Workers can also secure paid time-off through the app in the form of a $120 non-reloadable Visa Card for each day they miss, as long as they have enough credits.
Although Alia is far from flawless, seeing as contributions are voluntary and employers could simply refuse, it does have the potential to ensure more workers have benefits. In the future, the law could mandate portable benefits, providing gig economy workers with the same security they would get in a full-time job. An online platform that makes it easier to choose and access these benefits could be extremely useful for the ever-rising number of gig economy workers.
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