23 May 2012
Legal Protections for Contract workers
Creative fields, like mine, are particularly susceptible to unscrupulous clients due to the nebulous nature of the jobs we do. With notable exceptions, practically everyone hiring out there severely undervalues the effort, training and business costs it takes to create stuff. This has been the case long since before computers came on the scene. Artists worked in sweatshops for dollars a day in greeting card companies while the images they made sold like hot cakes. These days we are often asked/forced to work for a set price on projects with poorly defined or ever changing parameters. This is not just poor planning but a way to milk dry the person hired to the point they will receive far below the minimum wage, if in fact, they get paid at all.
Large companies are no better than two bit operations in this sense. Marketing People are the worst of the lot in my experience. I can't tell you how annoying it is to be constantly flattered on how wonderful and innovative my work is knowing it is a sure sign they are about to screw me over. Often, I am asked to work for or close to free for a chance to bid on non existent "future projects".
It's easy to say "don't take the work" when you are receiving a regular check every week. Independent workers are, in a sense, always unemployed and are not eligible for government assistance, even though they pay into it. It can be months between projects and many times workers are quite literally starving from either lack of work or from being ripped off by clients. When possible, I don't send the finished files until the check is on the way and watermark or make otherwise in usable files until you are paid. Deadlines almost always make these tactics unworkable, but I try them with every job. Sometimes I have to stop working until at least partial payment arrives. This forces the client to at least give me at least something. I can demand a deposit, but it's rare to receive one.
The real problem is there are no rules or regulations that protect the contractor. None. Any job that ultimately pays less than minimum wage should be illegal and no one should wait more than a couple weeks for a check to be sent out after the work is completed. Long projects should require partial payments throughout. Some basic price structures should be set as well. There is no free market here, just a free ride for dishonest employers. Setting some basic guidelines for fairness would go a long way to ending the abuse presently considered acceptable business (but immoral) practice.