Think For Yourself: Airtasker and the Future Workforce

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Is Airtasker the future of working or one step away from prostitution? IA critical thinker John Turnbull takes a look at the pros and cons of the new labour marketplace.

BY NOW, you have probably seen one of a series of slightly baffling television commercials that finish with synchronized krumping and the tagline "Like a Boss". 

These ads are for a service called Airtasker, which is a bit like Airbnb for people.

Founded in Sydney in 2012 by Tim Fung, Airtasker follows the path set by companies like Uber, MenuLog and Fooderoo, using regular people to deliver semi-professional goods and services.

Airtasker takes the concept to its logical conclusion, allowing people to outsource absolutely any aspect of their life. Theoretically.

How does Airtasker work?

The 'How it works' section of Airtasker.com makes it sound pretty straightforward;

  1. Post Your Task — included categories include Home & Garden, Computer & IT, Event & Photography, Delivery & Removals, Handyman, Marketing & Design, Business & Admin and "Fun & Quirky".
  2. Select the Best Worker for You — based on their Airtasker profile, accept their offer and transfer funds to the secure Airtasker account.
  3. Task completed — you release the funds from the Airtasker account and your indentured servant finally gets paid. Wait, did I say indentured servant? I’m getting ahead of myself …

While the company was set up in 2012, until recently they have relied on word of mouth to build business. September 2016 marks the company’s first foray into advertising — and they’re not mucking about, dropping big dollars on street posters and a prime time TV campaign including spots in this weekend’s NRL and AFL finals.

So what’s the problem?

The Murdoch press have already begun to clutch their pearls in alarm, calling Airtasker a Hidden threat to young Aussie Jobs’ and claiming that people who accepted the job of lining up for a new iPhone were paid as little as $7 an hour. To be fair, this was $7 an hour to sit in the street and play with their own soon-to-be-obsolete device, but the point stands that this is significantly below minimum wage.

It is this fact that has drawn the ire of Unions NSW, who have accused Airtasker or eroding workers rights. Unions NSW Secretary Mark Morey commented:

"There's been a significant driving down of conditions in the marketplace and what Airtasker and similar companies are doing are creating an explosion of work that is low-paid and below award wages."

So how much am I worth?

Much like in the real world, skills on Airtasker have different values. It’s not that hard to set up a home theatre or offer advice on graphic design, but it’s slightly more difficult to service a hot tub or unblock a toilet, so rates differ accordingly. Qualifications are likely to increase your marketability, as will positive reviews.

As a member, you’re under no obligation to accept the lowest quote, particularly if the "tradie" offering it feels a bit dodgy. You can hold back payment if you’re not happy with the job, but this probably isn’t much consolation if your toilet won’t stop flooding.

Is this an original idea? It sounds vaguely familiar …

While a lot of local news outlets are keen to claim Airtasker as an all-Aussie invention, the truth is that it bears a striking similarity to U.S.-based TaskRabbit — a company founded back in 2008 by Leah Busque

In case you want to compare and contrast, here’s what TaskRabbit claims to do:

It’s worth noting that U.S. interest groups have raised similar concerns about TaskRabbit’s treatment of "independent contractors" and you don’t have to look too far to find TaskRabbit horror stories

Any decent jobs on there?

It depends on your perspective. There is a depressing depth of fast food delivery choices, including "Deliver KFC", "Deliver McDonalds", "Deliver Lord of the Fries" and even "Deliver Adriano Zumbo’s". The sections on Marketing and IT are significantly lighter and the "fun & quirky" seems to revolve around helping people to watch Game of Thrones, which I did not realize was something you could get paid for.

The category of massage/personal services in conspicuously absent from Airtasker, but it is surely only a matter of time before it becomes a Craigslist style hive of escorts and prostitution. While the posting guidelines state: ‘No escort or adult services’ and claims that drugs are against the spirit and values of Airtasker’, members have the ability to post any task they like, which just seems like a challenge to the creative writers out there. Seriously, check for how many posts are looking for someone to clean their bedroom for $100 …  

The list of live tasks is varied, but almost breathtakingly dull, from the optimistic offer of $100 to borrow a car for a week in Bondi, to the princely sum of $20 to drop off a two-seater couch in Mascot. Once again, both of these are significantly below minimum wage, but if you’re desperate for money, there are probably worse options out there.

Sounds okay ... I guess

At the end of the day, the vast majority of people who use Airtasker will be looking for someone to complete a task that they don’t want to do for not very much money. It is inevitable that some people will be taken advantage of, because a small percentage of humans are bad people.

Airtasker isn’t a bad thing if you want to make a bit of spare cash, but it doesn’t exactly seem like a direct path to a super-successful career.

But what do I know?

Think for yourself.  

Like what you read? John Turnbull's books are now available on Amazon and Kindle. For about the price of a cup of coffee you can take a journey deep into the disturbed psyche behind columns including Screen Themes, Think For Yourself, New Music Through Old Ears and JT on NXT. There’s supernatural thriller Damnation’s Flame, action/romance Reaper, black comedy City Boy and travel guidebook Bar Trek: Europe. Check them out!

You can also follow John on Twitter @blackmagicjohn.

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