This article was first published in the January 2020 China edition of
Accounting and Business magazine.

Hong Kong’s gig economy is gaining traction but it is still a work in progress, with some sectors yet to embrace the full range of its benefits, says Chris Davis

Variously referred to as agile talent, free agents, contingent professionals, independent contractors or ‘giggers’, the concept of ‘tapping into talent’ on demand is generating growing interest from organisations who view the staffing model as a convenient way to bolster their talent needs.

Providing a good example of a win-win situation, giggers say they relish the flexibility and control over the variety of work, and employers appreciate the benefits of being able to bridge hard-to-fill skills gaps and tap into a wider pool of professionals when needed.

While figures offering insights into Hong Kong’s gig economy activities are sketchy, according to a Hong Kong Legislative Council Secretariat report, Hong Kong saw a 40% increase in the size of its ‘flexible’ workforce from 1999 to 2015.

In terms of embracing the gigger work model, a 2018 survey conducted by human resource solutions firm Persolkelly sees Hong Kong leading the way in the Asia Pacific region, followed by Singapore, India, Australia and Malaysia. The same survey observes that banking and finance, retail and IT outsourcing companies continue to be the highest users of contract staffing, while front-line sales, event promoters, back-office roles and IT are the roles most in demand.

Of all the generations, Generation Z is usually considered the most receptive to the gigging trend but, interestingly, while the freedom to gig is often associated with tech-savvy, digital nomads, a study conducted by PwC in 2016 spotlighted the desire to work independently increases with age, owing to a preference toward flexible work situations and self-directed work-life balance options.

Hong Kong’s accounting firms have not been so enthusiastic about embracing the gig economy as other sectors, usually citing compliance and privacy issues. And Hong Kong employers would be wise to bear in mind Hong Kong’s Employment Ordinance (EO). The protection it seeks to provide for employees doesn’t entirely hinge on the label of the individual providing a service, but is subject to the circumstances of the provision of the service. As such, labelling an on-demand worker as a contingent worker does not necessarily mean that Hong Kong’s labour court would view an individual as a gigger.

The definition of gigger or employee can rest on the extent to which the hiring company’s work and employment policies and procedures are expected to be observed and adhered to. And misclassifying a contingent worker as a gigger instead of an employee could lead to ramifications over holiday pay, Mandatory Provident Fund contributions, employees’ compensation and even severance pay. If a gigger is found by the labour court to be deemed an employee, the employer could risk conviction and be fined.

Meanwhile, as the number of giggers increases, the Hong Kong government says it has no plan to expand the scope of the EO.

Chris Davis is a freelance journalist who writes for business titles in Asia.