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by Luke Davis, independent contractor

Book Review of Ken Phillips’ Independence and the Death of Employment.

I recently read this book as a matter of interest after struggling to get a car loan with a bank.  While struggling with the bank to recognise that my employment status was that of contractor and not a casual I came across the ICA website and this book.  Subsequently the bank declared me a temp after 16 weeks of arguing and gave me a loan.

The book begins by defining the difference between an Employee and Independent Contractor in both common law and views held by the federal and state governments and the tax agencies in various countries. With some well researched law cases it then details how we arrived with current day employment law, unions and our present day tax system.  It then moves on to firms, issues with firms command and control structures and finally alternative employment forms such as small business’s and independent contracting and how there has been a global move in the last 25 years away from traditional employment.

While the book is for both Australian and international readers, most of the court cases and employment law it details are Australia-centric. But there are numerous references to employment law in countries such as the US and UK. The nature of employment, “The Firm”, Employment and Labour regulation, problems between free markets and firms, contracts of service vs. contracts for service are all discussed with relevant examples pulled from around the world.

While you might think a book with legal cases and employment law might be boring the cases and examples sighted are about every day Joe’s struggling to be recognised as independent.  From sheep shearers in Queensland’s outback to couriers and construction workers and their wins and sometime losses against modern day employment law, unions and the tax office.

The first few chapters in this book I would go so far as to say are chilling.  It opens your eyes to just how much 30% of an employee’s waking life is controlled by their employer.  Alerts you to just how many rights you give up just for the privilege of working for a wage.  For example: when you start and finish work, how much you charge, your right to free speech, when you can take holidays, how much holidays you can have, how much time off for being sick, the right to your intellectual property, your right to be responsible for your actions (vicarious liability) while at work are just some of the things you give up when working for a wage.

At its core this book is about alternatives to wage slavery and the global trend away from wage slavery.  More then 25% of workers these days are small businesses or independent contractors.  In fact in the ILO only recognised the independent contractor for the first time in 2005.  Sadly this was not due to any altruistic motive but because unions kept loosing members and they couldn’t work out where they went.

Anyone who is unhappy being a wage slave I would recommend you read this book and open your eyes to alternatives.  As an independent contractor I can tell you the border crossing is hard but once across you never want to go back.

I leave you with this quote from the Author:

If, as individuals, businesses and societies we are to move forward, we must recognize the nature of the employment contract. Where we reject employment, we find new liberty, strength, equality and self-worth. Societies function better without employment. Businesses are more successful without employment. Individuals are happier without employment. Yet working without being employed is not easy. In fact, non-employment goes against the natural grain of some powerful human instincts. But the revolt against employment, against concentrated power, is a sign that we are becoming more civilized.

(in order of appearance on Economics.org.au)
  1. Book Review: Independence and the Death of Employment by Ken Phillips
  2. Lessons I should teach my kids from the 2011 budget
  3. A Brief History of Tax in Australia
  4. Contracting vs Employment
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