Gig economy marketplace Fiverr is moving into offering long-term projects. Australian freelancers are being warned it could lead to a ‘race to the bottom’. – Business Insider Australia

  • Fiverr has introduced a subscription model in Australia, allowing businesses to work with freelancers on long-term projects.
  • New options for three- or six-month projects differ from the individual gigs which freelancers already offer on the platform.
  • But freelancers have been advised to approach gig economy platforms with caution, with the MEAA warning of a possible “race to the bottom.”
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Freelance marketplace Fiverr has launched a new feature connecting Australian clients with long-term contractors, as industry groups and regulators contemplate the impact of Australia’s gig economy on the labour market.

Subscriptions, introduced in late February, builds on Fiverr’s existing functionality: Instead of hiring freelancers to complete individual tasks, as with Australian competitor Airtasker, Fiverr users can now secure contractors for three- or six-month projects.

In a launch statement, Fiverr said the new model is aimed at larger businesses and agencies seeking talent it doesn’t possess in-house.

Adi Broza Margolis, Fiverr’s Product Group Director, told Business Insider Australia the new model will benefit Australian freelancers.

“Subscriptions supports skilled professionals seeking the flexibility of freelancing and the security of fixed-term employment,” Broza Margolis said.

The new set-up ensures freelancers have “control over workloads and income streams while not locking freelancers into long term contracts that may not suit their lifestyle.”

Freelancing ‘not a trend expected to die down’

The feature’s arrival comes after a year of unprecedented workplace disruption, led by coronavirus lockdowns and Australia’s mid-year descent into recession.

The crisis saw freelancers in fields like the arts, live performance, and the media lose once-reliable streams of income. As contractors, many Australian freelancers were also exempt from payroll subsidies, like the JobKeeper payment.

Employment figures are now recuperating. But economic data suggests many new jobs aren’t full-time, and a suspected boost in the number of ride-share workers raises questions about the labour market at large.

Fiverr’s own success over 2020 suggests a boom in freelance work — and its buyers. Broza Margolis said the number of global buyers grew by 1 million to 3.4 million in the year to December 31, correlating with a strong growth in overall revenue.

“This is not a trend expected to die down,” Broza Margolis said.

“And with freelance work gaining massive momentum, both independent contractors and business alike are seeking robust platforms that offer security and tools to successfully manage consistent, mutually beneficial relationships.”

The platform denies a ‘race to the bottom’

Fiverr allows freelancers to set their own rates for work, and the platform says subscriptions will provide gig workers with added financial security.

But the Media, Entertainment, and Arts Alliance (MEAA), the union governing Australian workers across a number of creative fields, says freelancers should approach platforms like Fiverr with caution.

“While they may be superficially attractive as providing an online meeting place for freelancers and employers, these platforms have historically encouraged a mentality of underbidding and lack transparency that has led to sub-standard pay and exploitation of freelancers,”said Adam Portelli, the director of MEAA Media.

The very flexibility that gig marketplaces promote may actively encourage “a race to the bottom,” Portelli said, with “freelancers essentially bidding against themselves.”

The union’s concerns are longstanding. In its submission to the Victorian Government’s 2019 gig economy inquiry, the MEAA included testimonies from voice-over artists who felt pressure to lower their quotes below industry standard rates — including for gigs listed on Fiverr.

“It is not clear how any subscription service offered by Fiverr or its competitors would not result in the same outcome,” Portelli said.

In response to the inquiry submission, Broza Margolis distanced Fiverr from the “race to the bottom mentality”.

“With freelancers being able to set their own rates there will be a spectrum of rates across the platform,” she said, “and Fiverr connects the growing demand to new and diverse talent that they would not have been able to access before.”

Renewed focus on industrial relations and the gig economy

The arrival of Subscriptions also coincides with Labor’s attempt to turn industrial relations reform into a major election issue.

In its new policy platform, revealed last month, the Opposition promised to empower the Fair Work Commission to determine if some gig economy workers are entitled to a minimum wage, superannuation, and other key entitlements.

The proposed reforms would also crack down on rolling fixed-term contracts, with contractors offered full-time work after 24 months or two consecutive contracts in the same role, whichever comes first.

The Coalition has rejected key components of the proposed legislation. But Labor’s decision to highlight the working conditions of Australia’s contract workers suggests lawmakers are keeping a close eye on the gig economy.

For now, Fiverr says it’s ready to support those workers, as they piece together a living in the COVID-normal economy.

“Subscriptions reflects a broader commitment to Australia’s freelance workforce,” Broza Margolis said.

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