Last week IQ Group attended the annual CMSF Conference. Each year this conference brings topical thought leadership and insights to the industry practitioners in attendance. One of those key topics up for discussion at this years event was the Gig Economy and it’s role in Superannuation.
The session opened with the confronting trend of the changing workforce and its impact on super, retirement and the wider community. In the US alone, it’s estimated that 40% of the population will be working in a gig economy. Back home, almost 1% of Australians are already working as independent contractors in short-term engagements and that number is growing.
The gig economy is defined as “a labour market characterised by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work, as opposed to permanent jobs”. The gig economy has grown as digital disruptions keep bringing enormous change to how people seek freelance jobs. Look at Uber, Deliveroo and Airtasker as examples. The issues confronting the gig economy are real and complex. From unregulated workers to health and safety issues, unfair dismissals and potential exploitation. There are no regulations on ensuring these gig economy workers have a modest superannuation, allowing them to retire with dignity, as many do not meet the superannuation income thresholds.
Here at the CMSF Conference, we are surrounded with young workers and some volunteers to serve over 1000 conference attendees from registration, serving food and drinks as well as cleaning. Many represent the gig economy.
I can’t help but think of my children when I hear about the gig economy – how it will grow as technology takes on new roles in our lives and how it will replace many traditional jobs with opportunities for new players. This could be their reality; working on short-term gigs to make a living but potentially missing out on superannuation because it isn’t compulsory for them.
Eva Scheerlink, CEO of AIST posed a question to CMSF attendees, “What do today’s young people think of super?”. She challenged attendees to ‘lift their heads above BAU’ and to ‘not let distractions take away the focus for funds to work towards better member outcomes.’
I was intrigued by this question and immediately questioned our IQ Group Marketing Manager who used to represent the gig economy when she was starting out in her marketing career after university. She worked on a lot of ‘gigs’ for many ’employers’ on a contract basis, not as a full-time job. Due to the nature of the type of work, none of her employers were required to pay super. She had to set aside super contributions on her own. Since this isn’t compulsory, it’s not something she would always do.
The younger generation have a different mindset. Many are disengaged with super and don’t understand or care about the benefits of long term compounding investments. Without making too many generalisations, many younger people often live in the ‘right here, right now’, and often paycheck to paycheck while still establishing themselves. The superannuation industry as an overall voice will need to pull together to bring a stronger awareness campaign to the young, perhaps even starting at secondary and university education levels. Digital engagement needs to be an area of improvement. In our IQ Digital Study 2017, we found that members in general found fund websites and apps generally lagged in performance and made it difficult to find information.
A key theme that came out of the panel session facilitated by Ellen Fanning was that the superannuation industry cannot wait for the government to show leadership in changing super for better member outcomes. Industry funds need to act as movers and shakers in changing what super could look like. With the rising trend of more young people working in the gig economy and mature workers doing short-term work, it is an opportune time to look at changing policies and rules before the workforce change becomes so significant. Unfortunately, the Australian Government won’t have an adequate solution in the short term, and will be left to play catch-up through the government pension scheme. Funds can advocate for policy change, such as changing income thresholds per month to qualify for employer paid super, increasing the super guarantee and changing the definition of employee to offer a more inclusive super accessible to everyone.
The CMSF conference opened with a strong call to action for industry players to act now. As a collective voice, we need to do something so all can retire with dignity. For the sake of the future generation. For needy communities. For all Australians.
By Cynthia Cheong, Practice Leader for Learning and Change, HIQ Learning Services