To date conflicting evidence makes that a difficult question to answer. Zero hours contracts have been widely condemned, yet a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development survey reported in late 2015 that the proportion of zero hours and short hours contract employees who say they are satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs - 65% and 67% respectively - is slightly higher than the level of satisfaction of employees as a whole (63%). Similarly, a more recent You Gov and Bank of Scotland "happiness survey" suggests that those working from home on a part time basis will be happier than those doing the daily commute to full time role. But for every person relishing the flexibility there is another who questions why they have to work in an insecure position without the benefits given to a permanent employee.
The gig economy - so named at the height of the financial recession in 2009 when "gigging" stopped being the preserve of musicians and instead became a way for the unemployed to make ends meet - is a model where temporary positions are common and businesses contract with independent workers for short term engagements. Technology plays a significant part in the growth of this type of working. Laptops can be linked up to wi-fi in coffee bars and delivery and taxi drivers can just check their mobile phones when they are looking for work.
There is significant support for the gig economy and not only from the businesses who benefit from it. The European Commission published guidelines earlier this year aimed at supporting consumers, businesses and public authorities to engage confidently in what they termed the "collaborative economy" stating "These new business models can make an important contribution to jobs and growth in the European Union, if encouraged and developed in a responsible manner". While the European Commission will be of less relevance after Brexit, it is possible that the uncertainty caused by the UK leaving the EU may result in a further growth of the gig economy in this country.
The Autumn statement indicated that the gig economy is going to impact on us all, irrespective of our own working arrangements, because self employment reduces the amount of taxes being paid. The Office for Budgetary Responsibility has estimated that by 2021 it will be costing the Treasury £3.5 billion. Phillip Hammond has confirmed his intention to look at alternative ways of taxing those working in this way.
Of course, whether this is the way forward or a step back will depend on who you speak to. Senior white collar workers, commonly calling themselves consultants, will often speak highly of this type of flexibility when they are in control of it - they choose when to work and are well remunerated for it. But the other side of the coin is the circumstances of the low paid casual worker who doesn't know how many hours, if any, they will be working from one week to the next.
The inquiry into the future of work launched by the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee (BEISC) comes in the wake of allegations against Amazon, Hermes and Sports Direct of unacceptable working practices primarily related to the use of zero hours contracts and high profile employment status challenges being brought to the Tribunal by Uber drivers, and Deliveroo and City Sprint couriers. The status challenges relate to whether the drivers and couriers are genuinely self employed or whether they are in fact "workers" with rights to holiday pay, sick pay and the national minimum or (depending on their age) national living wage. So far Tribunals appear to be finding for the claimants in these cases, agreeing that they are workers and entitled to the pay claimed, although Uber confirmed its intention to appeal and it is thought that City Sprint may do so also.
The focus of the BEISC's inquiry is on the rapidly changing nature of work, the status and rights of agency workers, the self-employed, and those working in the gig economy as well as issues such as low-pay and poor working conditions for people working in these non-traditional roles. This includes looking at whether the word "worker" is defined sufficiently clearly in legislation, zero hours contracts, the balance of benefits between employees and workers and the role of trade unions in representing the self-employed.
The speed of growth of "gigging", the continual progression of the technology it relies upon and the demand of consumers for this type of fast response product means it is likely to be a significant feature of employment in the future. As such we can expect this to be a focus of both Tribunal activity and Government inquiry for some time to come.