The Caribbean is excessively dependent on tourism, and this sector was vastly affected because of COVID-19 travel restrictions. The travel restrictions impacted various industries in several Caribbean islands resulting in many workers becoming unemployed. With few avenues for income within the islands, there is a possibility that the gig economy can be a source of revenue for these Caribbean workers. A gig economy is defined as a “labour market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs.” Two areas will be looked at, how the gig economy affects unemployment rates and what it means for the future of work in the Caribbean.
Pettinger (2018) highlighted that the gig economy was a significant factor that led to unemployment declining in the United Kingdom since 2012. Consequently, the gig economy may be the mechanism that can impact unemployment rates in the Caribbean. The ILO stated that unemployment in the Caribbean hit its highest in 2020 and was expected to increase in 2021. (Reuters, 2020) In Barbados alone, the employment rate rose to 18.5 % at the end of 2020, and during 2021, expectations are that many persons would remain unemployed.
The gig economy can provide unemployed individuals the desired opportunity to work from home, choose jobs and earn an income. The gig economy can influence the unemployment rate short and long term. In the short term, it provides the opportunity to supplement the income of those individuals waiting for the tourism industry to re-emerge, while long term, it can be a primary source of income.
The future of work in the Caribbean has the potential to change with the gig economy as persons can do work virtually or physically. However, with the islands’ size constraints, virtual gig work will be the catalyst for change. The gig economy will “build the economy, reverse economic inequality, [and]… build a community,… empower the poor and bring entrepreneurship to the masses”. These are important elements that are needed in the Caribbean.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown Caribbean people that workspace is not delimited. Work can be done from home using the mediums of a cell phone, laptop, computer, and the internet. The gig economy lets persons utilize their skills to offer services to employers or customers globally, where they can be labeled as freelancers, part-time workers, or full-time workers. Anyone can be your ’employer,’ or the freelancer can own their own business and attract global customers without leaving the confines of home or leaving their respective islands.
Jamaica is the pioneer of the gig economy in the Caribbean. The country has a program called Internet Income Jamaica which provides skills and courses on working remotely on gig platforms such as Fiverr and Upwork. Some of the courses offered are telephone calls, social media management, blog optimization, teaching English online, and transcription. Internet Income Jamaica televises and publicizes via social media many of the success stories of people who have taken the courses and are making money online from the gig economy. Before, these persons were unemployed or underemployed, and working with the gig economy has provided opportunities that were not available on their island. They are known for exemplary work, and many people on platforms on Fiverr and Upwork at times only ask for workers from Jamaica.
The gig economy, however, does have some disadvantages. Not everyone is successful in obtaining work. The temporary work situations of the gig economy do not provide benefits or job security. Unlike some traditional 9-5 work settings, there is no trade union protection, pension, or other work benefits offered in the gig economy. Ravenelle (2019) also notes that the gig economy has many experienced, qualified, and knowledgeable workers, but they may have to work long hours. The gig workers also have few redress options from scrupulous buyers, and a work-life balance may not exist. It has been characterized as a form of exploitation with extraordinarily little workplace protection.
The gig economy can change the future of working in the Caribbean and be an essential element to fight unemployment in a landscape with non-existent jobs. However, it is not the same for everyone and does not offer a safety net that a traditional 9-5 will. It does, however, offer more advantages than disadvantages, as people need any income due to the unavailability of jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Research and focus will be required to confirm whether there are ways the adverse effects can be reduced or eliminated in the future.
Cumberbatch, Shawn. “Jobless rate likely to remain high.” Nation News, January 28, 2021. https://www.nationnews.com/2021/01/28/jobless-rate-likely-remain-high/
Pettinger, Tejvan. “The gig economy.” Economics help, 7 May 2018 https://www.economicshelp.org/blog/24205/labour-markets/the-gig-economy/
Ravenelle, Alexandrea . Hustle and Gig: Struggling and Surviving in the Sharing Economy. United States: University of California Press, 2019.
Reuters staff (December, 2020) . “Unemployment in Latin America to hit highest level in more than a decade-ILO” December 20, 2020. https://www.reuters.com/article/latam-economy-ilo-idUSKBN28R2DX
Tolley, Kim. Professors in the Gig Economy: Unionizing Adjunct Faculty in America. United States: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2018.
Wilson, Bill. “What is the gig economy?” BBC News, February 10, 2017. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-38930048