Wednesday 29 January 2020

The future belongs to the self-employed

Zzp’er or piece worker, the future belongs to the self-employed, writes Annemarie van Gaal.

The future belongs to the zzp’er, or self-employed, and that is a healthy development. If things continue the way they have, we will soon have more self-employed people than civil servants. This is good news for a society wanting to say goodbye to a backbreakingly expensive welfare state in favour of more independence and initiative.

Farewell dependence on government facilities, unions and safety nets. As the army of the self-employed grows it will organise itself and wield more power. We shouldn’t underestimate the ambition of the self-employed: after all, most major entrepreneurs started out zzp’ers. 


Last week I was in Bangalore, India, to visit some textile factories. Over the years there have been many campaigns to improve the working conditions of textile workers in countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and India. Thanks to pressure from clients, trade organisations and international monitors much has changed for the better. Exploitation must, of course, be avoided but we must also take care these countries don’t make the mistakes that we made.


I will give you an example. Tailors used to be paid a certain amount per piece of work. Piece-wages are now banned in India, because we in the west think it’s unfair. Our argument is that it is slavery by another name.

I went to a factory where an order for 1,500 leather Tommy Hilfiger jackets was being processed. Hundreds of people were sewing two to three jackets a day. In this exceptional case workers were being paid per finished jacket. They were content because this enabled them to earn two to three times the minimum wage. The factory boss pointed out the difference between those on piece-wages and those on a fixed wage.


Workers on a fixed wage need continuous coaching and are averse to new ideas. Workers on piece-wages are independent, organise themselves and do not need supervision. New methods and machines are welcomed because these may save time and thus enable them to earn more.

When you think about it, they are just like our zzp’ers. And if you think about it a little more, the question arises whether to object to this system is not to remove something fundamentally important from Indian society. Shouldn’t we make sure other countries don’t make the same mistakes? Shouldn’t we point out that the welfare state is, in the end, unsustainable and that independence and initiative present the way out?

Annemarie van Gaal is head of AM media and a writer and columnist


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