Shannon Walsh takes a straight aim at the businesses benefiting from using lowly paid independent contractors by speaking to the people affected by the gig economy life. The Gig is Up doesn’t hold back any punches as it paints a rather grim picture of the exploitation of workers. She has made a simmering documentary that should be a very stark wake-up call for those aware of what life is like for these workers.
So much of contemporary reality is entirely dependent upon an increasing number of heavily exploited workforces, from Amazon to Uber. Canadian filmmaker Shannon Walsh pulls back the curtain on the global gig economy, creating a complex and compelling cinematic essay about the role of work within modern tech-savvy societies.
As someone who has done what Mary L. Gray classifies as Ghost Work and, in fact, continues to do so to earn somewhat I call holiday money. I have seen how these companies treat their workers or, for a more factual title, independent contractors. For me, it was a small side job to get extras; for others, it is a full-time job, and the money you make really isn’t worth it. Walsh has it explained to us that some people might at best make $2 an hour doing their jobs and with the sleazy tactics that these businesses utilise to reel in new staff with decent wages. Only then to start slowly reducing those rates once the new employee has been fully integrated. It is horrible to see these good people get duped as they have been. One driver left her well paid job to drive. After earning quite a bit and having a flexible working environment with her family. She is now left working all around the clock to earn merely half of what she was when she first started. How can a company get away with that?
Walsh and her team have us feel for her subjects with some solid structuring. It is often easy to get lost in creating such a documentary and merely go for the throat from the first second. Here though, Walsh takes her time with each person; we get to know them. In fact, for their first moments, we see why gig economy jobs would be beneficial to them and how they do very well financially from it. Then she wisely begins to turn the knife that we never knew was embedded in our back. Finally, with the introduction of researchers and people trying to make it fair for these workers, we return to our subjects. This is where we begin to see the frustrations build with how these companies have been treating them and others. We begin to see the difficulties in their lives and how they are in these roles; they have limited ways of escaping them.
Walsh knows she has you by this point, and as she amps up her thoughts on capitalism and consumerism, we begin to see the costs both with businesses and the people “hired” by them. It is fantastic to work, so when we venture back to China, we see one of the gargantuan business costs of every company trying to eke out a profit. Thousands, perhaps millions of bikes, are left abandoned underneath overpasses, the graveyard of capitalism as companies who tried to succeed in the bike-sharing war, as one person puts it. That these bikes are just left to pile up and leave their former assets to rust is a stark image that we are presented with. One that down the line will only grow, just with other piles as the automatisation of other things begins to come to the fore.
Wisely, Walsh makes sure not to make this just a problem within North America. Instead, she goes across the world, from Paris to Lagos, as we see how much of a worldwide issue this has become. Something that strikes within The Gig is Up is how the people spoke to know what they are being used for and that they can’t keep doing this forever (and thus, the endless conveyor belt of new workers comes in). Still, they also know that for some of the jobs they are doing, they are only feeding the AI to become smarter so that it eventually removes them from the job as they will have given the AI all of the information it needs. It is a hard pill to swallow as you watch on.
As we reach the end of The Gig is Up, we begin to see the effect of the pandemic on a lot of these contractors. We see how stuck they become when the company that hires them doesn’t support them when they need them the most. As one person says, they are the company’s assets. Yet, Uber etc., neglect them—taking from another personal viewpoint from someone who worked in a gig worker job. I saw how new jobs dwindled via the forums that those who relied heavily on new jobs coming in were left stranded. Some of these people have disabilities that make the role they had the only meaningful way to make an income. In a second, their livelihood was gone. I saw the desperation first-hand there, so to know that millions of others around the world are also in the same boat is devastating.
For those unaware of what life is like for gig economy workers, this will be one hell of an eye-opener to the exploitative ways of businesses. What Walsh does so well in The Gig is Up is that she focuses our attention on the people, the ones we only see for 5 seconds as they drop off our food, or the people we never see, making our lives easier. It is easy to forget that someone has to do the job in this technologically advanced world. But, here, they are seen as clear as day. It is vital that with documentaries like this, they remain seen, that their voices are heard loud and clear – an outstanding documentary.
The Gig is Up is available to watch now on www.filmhouseathome.com for 72 hours.
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