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The Burke Report 2018: Financial prosperity for construction freelancers and the firms that draw on their skills

David Jackson | 12th March 2018

The latest – third – edition of the Burke Report has just been published.

As those of us in the industry know, construction is one of the UK’s biggest self-employed sectors. Equally, there is a widespread general assumption that in any industry – and particularly in the era of the gig economy – the self-employed must be the least financially secure workers.

Logically, therefore, construction freelancers are likely to suffer financial hardship, right?

In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. The Report’s two most important revelations:

Freelance construction workers: Far from harming their financial security and well-being, self-employment actually seems to boost their prospects, with those who take the risk well-rewarded

Flexibility delivers huge savings: Firms using highly skilled subbies as and when needed limit their risk, enhance their return on investment and boost output, saving between 27 – 86 per cent on labour costs per project

Freelancers earning more than employees

Andrew Burke, Dean of Trinity Business School, has spent months carrying out primary research and gathering hard evidence to dispel any myth that legitimate, self-employed labour-only subbies are at the bottom of the financial pile.

  • In fact, at the bottom end of the financial scale, you find not freelance workers but employees
  • Freelancers who work less than 30 hours per week earn more than comparable part-time employees – sometimes almost double
  • In the three lowest percentile groups according to weekly pay, there are consistently more employees than self-employed workers
  • Interestingly, the very top of the pay scale is also dominated by employees rather than freelancers
  • However, the middle of the scale, from percentile group four to percentile group eight, is dominated by freelancers

Professor Burke comments: “Self-employed status is certainly not driving financial insecurity in construction. Our report has clearly shown that not only is self-employment a positive financial choice for construction workers; the flexibility freelancers provide is also a powerful productivity boost for the sector.”

Freelancers deliver a great deal for construction companies

The Burke Report also clearly demonstrates that freelancers give individual firms – and the overall sector – a significant productivity boost. The flexibility to hire labour as and when needed, on a project-by-project basis, eliminates idle unused labour downtime, creating huge cost savings.

“The evidence is undeniable,” Professor Burke says. “Freelancers play a crucial enterprise-enabling role in boosting economic performance in the construction industry. Their absence would lead to economic contraction, higher costs, reduced employment levels and a more concentrated, less competitive market.”

The Burke Report – Freelance Workers in the Construction Industry – can be downloaded here

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