Is Remote Working Ethical?
By Alfredo Fernandez
HAVANA TIMES – Remote working is the greatest benefactor of this pandemic worldwide. According to different news outlets, at least 30% of jobs have disappeared. Most of these have been replaced by working from home. The Internet has made this possible, which was inconceivable a few years back.
The reality is that many companies discovered remote working and decided to save on renting offices, supervisors of worker efficiency, office supplies, and a long etc. Stated like this, the above might seem good and even sensible. However, remote working also reveals the flip side of this new mode of working.
Many companies have laid off their staff and are now only hiring freelancers. These digital workers are normally very efficient because they don’t have an employment contract. In order to get a new project, they have to hand in the work on time. So, they work restlessly, and they earn a lot less than traditional workers, on the whole. On top of that, you don’t have to pay for their medical insurance or holidays, much less overtime.
If a digital freelancer is a mother, then things are even more complicated. Generally-speaking, children at home are also receiving classes online. She must first make sure her kids are paying attention to the class they receive from a faraway professor. Not to mention that she must prepare meals, snacks and do chores around the house.
Before, leaving the house and going into the office represented an escape to another reality for this woman. It wasn’t any better or worse, but it was different. Maybe going out to work was her least regular trip and maybe the most important.
This is no longer the case anymore. Now she may have to work twice as hard and earn less than before. Plus, she is far from those achievements that workers fought decades for: health insurance, holiday and Christmas pay and bonuses. Socializing with workmates is also a thing of the past, which is key for individuals and their life in community.
While I do think remote working is a positive thing, it will also have to take on the benefits that traditional workers fought for, so that offices of laptops don’t become the new cover-up for exploiting a worker in need and struggling to get to the end of the month.
I say all of this as somebody who has experienced this firsthand. I have taken on some freelance digital work in recent months. All of these projects paid very little; sometimes it was even ridiculous. Sometimes it was impossible not to think that the person hiring thought I was intellectually and developmentally disabled. Of course, I turned those projects down.
I don’t believe that the problems I’ve described here have a short-term solution. But the corresponding authorities – I don’t know which – must take this matter into their hands and establish minimum fees for this new form of work.
2 thoughts on “Is Remote Working Ethical?”
Working for the family is always as and always been ethical, whether remote or office based especially and most likely because of this pandemic. I say, parents will always find ways to support the needs of their child. Disadvantages, as you say, includes health benefits and social securities, and if working freelance you can also ask about it to your supposed employer. Since there are many ways/task that can be outsourced, so I guess, it is how to sell your self without being needy.
In posing this question: “Is Remote Working Ethical?” and its subsequent discussion, one has to be careful to separate remote work from freelance work. The two are not necessarily synonymous.
Absolutely working from home for many, many employees is an extremely beneficial bonus to their working lives. The introduction of the Internet and its digital impact has certainly allowed many companies to rethink, reorganize, and even reduce its full time employee complement.
To that end, Mr. Fernandez is right whereby some companies have encouraged and even insisted all workers work from home thus reducing the company’s fixed costs such as rent expenses, heat, hydro, etc. I believe the company Shopify is one such organization that presently has all its employees working remotely. The full time employees I am sure receive the same monetary compensation and benefits as though they worked in the home office but now without travel expenses.
In Canada, many public service employees (government), whether they be federal employees or provincial workers, work from home. They receive the same salary and the exact same benefit package as though they were working in the public service office. The greatest benefit employees are happy with in this innovative endeavor is the no travel time, particularly in the winter.
In large cities, some employees must travel literally hours to get to the office having to deal with stressful street traffic, inclement wintry weather, plus the shorter days and longer periods of darkness here in Canada, working from home is relatively stress free and more accommodating. Of course, if an employee has children at home whom have to be home schooled that can add to the stress.
Mr. Fernandez states: “Many companies have laid off their staff and are now only hiring freelancers.” based on the fact that now companies can have employees work remotely. Don’t know whether that is entirely factual. Certainly public sector employees and workers with strong, active unions are not all of sudden laid off or reduced to either part time or freelance work because they are now suddenly asked to work from home. If they are full time unionized workers, and the majority of Canadian government workers are, they continue receiving full time pay and full time benefits whether working remotely or at the office.
Freelance workers (sometimes called precarious workers) have been around for many, many years prior to the pandemic. Absolutely, all the negative implications freelance work has on an employee is very true and experienced by many workers today hoping to become full time employees with benefits. Particularly now, for say a recently graduated person with a degree in hand, finding a full time job is extremely difficult and the person has to take on freelance work, part time work, precarious work or an internship for who knows how long and with less pay and certainly with no employer benefits, but the luxury (?) of working from home.
Is this endeavor ethical? The ethical dilemma does not arise from remote work but from freelance work. Again, many workers would be entirely enthusiastic with working from home given a regular full time job with benefits. Many workers today, and again there are many, are not too enthused with precarious, freelance jobs with no benefits other than working remotely.
There is an obvious indirect relationship between union membership and the preponderance of freelance work. The percentage of workers working in unionized jobs has been steadily decreasing for years in Canada and more so in the United States while the number of people working freelance precarious positions continues to increase. Perhaps the solution is to strive to increase union membership, not an easy thing to do without much sacrifice and political will, so that the ethical conundrum is somewhat rectified.
Mr. Fernandez has a similar solution which is just as coherent if it can be successfully activated: Have the corresponding authorities (are they elected government representatives?) act accordingly and institute government legislation to establish minimum wages for freelance work. I agree.
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