Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

Nice big fat red herring.

Health care as a discussion point in the contractor vs. employee topic is relevant for only one country on the planet.

The important benefits of having a job as opposed to gigging can be summarized as "the employer should not have complete power over the employee". For Uber drivers this is exactly the case, that's why this type of work is socially poisonous.

The definition of a contractor is in fact the opposite. Employees have to obey the hours and other conditions set by the employer. However, a business is not allowed to set such terms for a contractor - in general the rule is you can tell a contractor what you want done and what you’ll pay but you can’t tell them how or when to do it.

I think what the OP was getting at is perhaps US centric, but basically Uber would be a lot better gig if you could be an Uber driver and have good health coverage (because it was a social service). At that point the argument would only be about fair wages, which is an easier case to make.

This is only true of contractors in high skill roles. Sure, most of us on HN could demand a rate which compensates for the lack of worker protections and additional overhead (on the worker side) of being a contractor. Uber drivers cannot.

Contractors for low skill work is exclusively a means to avoid the overhead of having an employee and all the worker protections that entails. The "contractor" has no negotiating power, and no protections normally given to employees. For the Uber "contractors" it's the worst of both worlds while Uber get to have their cake and eat it too.

Honestly, being a contractor in this situation do suck. Normally, especially in B2B, contractor have at least a bit of power to negotiate with their client. Sometimes a lot, sometimes not so much, but in the case of a Uber driver, you have no power over Uber.

They want to terminate/not renew your contract because they didn't like you for some reason ? They can. With no extra fee to pay. So imagine if they find out you are part of a Union or participated in a Uber-strike. As a Uber driver, you have no negotiation power over them. You only power is to go see a competitor, which has the same problem and are not numerous anyway.

Then, there is also the fact that as a "personal" contractor, if you get sick, you are fucked. You car has a problem ? Deal with it with your own money. You have no minimum salary, no paid vacation, no sick day, no protection of any kind. Whatever happen to you, Uber don't care, you are just one of their many contractor.

The status of employee brings a lot of protection that worker all over the world had to fight for. This type of unipersonnal contractor just bring us back to early 1900 worker status, and we should never accept that.

>basically Uber would be a lot better gig if you could be an Uber driver and have good health coverage

Haven't heard about it in a while, but this is a goal of the current CEO: http://fortune.com/2018/10/04/uber-driver-benefits-insurance...

> The important benefits of having a job as opposed to gigging can be summarized as "the employer should not have complete power over the employee".

That's also a big fat red herring.

The clients of a service are not employers of the contractor, and just because a contractor decides to invest some of his time to provide a service through ads posted on a job board that connects clients and service providers it does not mean that the job board suddenly becomes an employer.

And this is a really bad and misleading comparison.

Since when do job boards choose contractors for you? Since when job boards set the terms for the contractors? Since when they set prices for both you and contractors?

From the point of view of the customer, Uber looks like a taxi service, not a "taxi drivers phonebook in an app". It's done like this on purpose, but it should go both ways. You shouldn't get to pretend you're a company when it comes to benefits, but suddenly present yourself as network of "independent" contractors where it comes to drawbacks.

You stop being a job board and start being a contractor for contractors when you begin to set terms for the contractors who appear on your list. If UBER wants to be a job board, then they need to allow the contractors to set their own prices, drive whatever cars they want, and generally be as exceptional or terrible as the individual drivers want to be. You don't hire a taxi, you "get an Uber". Everything about their branding is "giant private taxi service".

They're not a job board. They're an employer shirking their responsibilities to their employees.

In Germany there is regulation about "Scheinselbständigkeit" meaning you are not really a contractor because you only have one customer for example. This is mostly a good thing but problematic with e.g. consulting where you have perhaps only one customer for some time. It was created to prevent exploitation but on the other scale limits high income people and consultancies, which was not the goal.

Same thing in Netherland. There's constantly attempts to cut down on "schijnzelfstandigheid", which results in me having to jump through lots of hoops because I do long projects for big clients, on-site, as part of a team. But I make my own business decisions.

But when PostNL wants to fire all their mail deliverers and rehire them as independent contractors, they can. When I asked why, it turned out the main difference was that they are replaceable and I'm not: if they're unable to deliver mail at a certain day, they can get a friend to do it for them. When I'm ill, I can't send someone else to do my job.

It's a stupid rule. It's the exact reason why I have power over my work situation and they don't, yet somehow it's the reason why their situation is allowed and I constantly need to prove myself (though I haven't had any trouble so far).

I think there should be a lower limit for this to be in effect, e.g. below 50k EUR/y or 100k EUR/y.

That's certainly been an option that's been considered. Not sure what the current status of that is. The main downside is that it gives a very arbitrary barrier.

And maybe it should be hourly rate rather than yearly revenue, because a client might have no idea what a contractor's year looks like. You don't want clients to be forced into additional commitments until they've hired you for enough hours.

In my little micro consulting business that is often the case. I have a pool of clients that I work with, but typically there's only one large project at any one time and I may not hear from some clients for a year when I'm not working a large project. I'd hate to be considered an employee for a whole host of reasons, not the least of which being I use my consulting revenue to fund other internal projects which I hope to be profit making, but currently aren't. My business here in the US is essentially a corporation, so the accounting and tax ramifications would be very different if what I billed were only considered wages.

Finally, where I live at least, the "Scheinselbständigkeit" regulation would not necessarily apply to to Uber/Lyft even if it existed here: many of the ride-share cars I see around here have both Lyft and Uber signage and the drivers will switch their time between the companies. I don't know all the dynamics of why drivers do that, but I'm sure there are reasons for doing that.

> Health care as a discussion point in the contractor vs. employee topic is relevant for only one country on the planet.

Even in countries with single-payer healthcare, full-time employees may be eligible to a better healthcare deal via their employer than a temp worker, never mind a contractor.

In Canada, white collar jobs often come with some extra supplemental health insurance, but it's not a huge deal for most people. I think I get half of dental costs covered, for instance. It's not literally life or death the way it is in the US's evil system.

That is a stretch, drivers can leave at any time. They can even quit and look for other kinds of work. I don't disagree that it is playing out poorly, but that's because the driving market is a duopoly that was running at a VC funded loss for years to set a customer price that ultimately doesn't work out for the drivers. If instead fares were reasonable and the market competitive then a driver could switch to another platform when terms got worse. Some people even drive for multiple companies at once.

In other gig/freelance scenarios the markets work themselves out, but often suffer from a globalized work force pushing rates way down. In the driver situation, the prices are local, so there is no excuse for the market not to work itself out unless the drivers are not excercising their freedoms or they have no other platform with better circumstances, to which they could find other types of work. It isn't that easy I know, but you have the choice to look and try.

You're confusing poorly paid contractors with highly paid and sought contractors.

The latter can indeed leave at any time and be fine. Perhaps take a sabbatical at the sea side.

The former will have their livelihood threatened if they make use of that flexibility, hence they have in reality no flexibility at all. They dance to the tune of Uber, Amazon and other bullies.

Surely they "dance to the tune" because in reality their work just isn't worth enough to allow them that freedom of choice? That's hardly Ubers fault and I don't see why Uber should have to suffer to make up for that.

The state sets lower limits to what work should be worth, in order to avoid unpleasant social outcomes, such as worker abuse. It also sets a minimum of benefits companies should offer, in order to fulfil their side of the social contract - being allowed to safely do business and have access to capital, workers, etc.

If Uber, or any other company invents a type of work which cannot be compensated according to those rules, then they do not have a viable business and will go bankrupt or be fined out of existence.

In practice, they've managed to find enough loopholes to survive, while making the lives of many of their employees miserable.

Its abhorrent to me that you think the "social good" is a good enough reason to violate the rights of the individual. Access to food is a social good, but we don't say we should have the state provide universal access to food. We don't say that in housing. You could argue that access to technology is a social good, should the state be providing universal technology? Some people believe anyone with a skin colour that isn't white is adding to "unpleasant social outcomes.

My point really isn't that these things are or aren't social goods, but that the limits to social good and what it can be used to justify are far too vague and far reaching, ending up with the line being drawn only by the person who happens to be in charge at the time. Social good is the justifying call of tyrants.

I advocate for individual rights and property rights for everyone, allowing them to be free from the state using force. That includes the business men making decisions over their companies which is their property and their employees who choose whether or not they want to sell their labour to them.

> You're confusing poorly paid contractors with highly paid and sought contractors.

there's no difference. If your skillset is sought after, you get more money (by exercising your market demand).

The fact that there are many poorly paid people is not a problem of the companies paying them poorly, but of society not creating equal opportunities for those people (e.g., for education) to skill up.

Yes, everyone should have the opportunity for education, but if no one can live on the pay of an uber driver so everyone skills up to get a better paying job, who will drive the ubers?

I think everyone working fulltime should have a liveable wage.

No one would, uber would be forced to either pay higher or go out of business due to a lack of supply in drivers. As it stands though, supply of drivers way outweighs demand for drivers, so they get paid less.

A "liveable wage", whatever that is, isn't a workable solution for a lot of businesses, simply because the actual value of their work may be lower than the liveable wage. Now instead of getting some money for food to eat or a place to stay, they now get nothing because it just isn't viable to pay the liveable wage for the value they supply.

Everybody knows how offer and demand works if left unchecked. That's why it's almost never left unchecked... I mean this is what the whole discussion about gigging is: why should we allow such crappy working conditions?

"simply because the actual value of their work may be lower than the liveable wage."

That is not a job then and the entity assigning such tasks is not a company. A company has a responsibility to offer its workers certain benefits in return for having access to the legal and social frames that are allowing it to operate.

I am in agreeance that if they can't sustain their business without VC or underpaid workers then it isn't a viable business model and the market should let them go bankrupt. I kind of hope they do so that a more reasonable business can fill the void.

I argument that if a business can't provide a livable wage to its full time employees, then the business isn't viable.

I don't agree with you, but let's assume I do. What next? All of those business fail and... Low skill workers now make zero instead of something >= minimum wage. How is that better?

A healthy society will offer a safety net to people without jobs and also the ability to retrain, find another job, etc.

You're assuming an unhealthy society, which unfortunately matches the US, but also many other so-called well-off countries: social protection diminished or outright removed combined with job uncertainty and social inequality.

Having one or two Ubers allows you merely to pretend longer that the situation's not dire. The political turn to the right in Europe right now and the election results in the US can be at least partly explained by the fact that people are sick of it.

Only if you're enforcing the "livable" wage. Those people who would be working for under your "livable" wage would still be out of that money though.

for these sorts of low-value jobs, something has to give - either employees don't get a livable wage and the business survives, or the business doesn't survive due to too high wage cost. The option where the business survives, but also pays a livable wage, can't exist. If it could, then a competitor could also out-compete them by just not paying a livable wage!

What does that say about all of the money losing startups that are living on VC funding?

So if my 17 year old son making Pizza were working full time, how much should he be making?

What about the franchise owner? An article was posted here a few weeks back saying the average yearly take home pay of a 7-11 owner was less than $40K a year and he was working 60+ hours per week.

Then the next argument is usually if they can’t pay a livable wage and be profitable that they shouldn’t be in business. Which is really a great argument on a site where many people work for money losing tech companies who are only in business because of VC funding.

“Everyone working full time should have a loveable wage”. It’s a useful thought experiment to see where does this break down for you. Does every startup deserve funding if the founder promises to commit full time? Does every aspiring artist or actor get a liveable wage if they promise to engage full time regardless of their skill? Does every researcher get paid even if their focus is on playing video games? At some point “value created”, and “skill”, and “demand”, and “competition” are reasonable measuring heuristics without invoking “late stage capitalism” tropes.

It's just a sentence, not a detailed essay of my thoughts covering all the bases. I was thinking along the lines of everyone working fulltime for a single employer. Uber drivers are contractors apparently, but if uber lets them work 40ish hours a week, I personally include them. Basically, the response to all of your questions is if a single employer is paying them either hourly or per task and wants/needs/allows them to work full time, then they should get a liveable wage. If they suck they should be let go. I'm sure there are exceptions.

If they have no choice but be slaves to Uber today, what did they do before Uber? Uber is a very recent development.

Who knows, maybe they were enjoying one of those formerly secure jobs that was either automated out of existence or ruined by "clever" companies through loopholes like not offering job contracts.

The article is about a US ruling and an American company. It seems relevant.

Also in Germany you are not insured publicly when you are self-employed.

You have a choice between public and private insurance. And you can very well be publicly insured should you desire so (for a cost). It’s just that if you don’t have an employer you pay full medical insurance premium (not half). But should you get bankrupt you will get the public medical insurance benefits for free again.

This is not true.

> Even if you are self-employed, you can also decide whether you wish to be insured via the statutory health insurance scheme or through a private fund.


Self-employed you can be in a public health insurance. Depending on income you might switch to private though.

More relevant: self-employed don't pay into social security. Thus unemployment money and retirement have to be paid differently.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact