The furniture industry is booming thanks to the pandemic and workers are in short supply. IKEA outsources assembly to TaskRabbit, a company it purchased in 2017. TaskRabbit brings together consumers and freelancers.
The freelancer, known as a tasker, selects the tasks he or she can do. This can be anything from cleaning, shopping, entertainment (singing and dancing at parties) and computer help, to entering spreadsheet data or doing research. Or even stand in line for your customer; the recommended rate for this is €9 per hour and there is a 15% service charge. The app gives the tasker the chance to ‘explain why he is a good choice’. There are freelancers who say in their profile that they are ‘very good at queuing, have years of experience at it and are very patient’.
Yet, since TaskRAbbit’s arrival in Spain in January 2020, there seems to be little demand for ‘queuing’ for the time being. What is in demand, however, is the assembly of IKEA furniture. Although IKEA and TaskRabbit operate as separate brands, they are not: IKEA bought TaskRabbit in 2017.
TaskRabbit started in Spain early last year. From Barcelona, the company spread to the rest of Catalonia and later to Madrid, Avila, Segovia, Toledo, Guadalajara, Ciudad Real, Cuenca and Cáceres. Meanwhile, more than 17million Spaniards can call on the company for a service, which regularly appears in the media. Remarkably, TaskRabbit doesn’t advertise on Facebook or Instagram to attract employees.
The company has hardly any infrastructure in Spain: there is no customer service by phone, everything goes through chat. And that is often not possible in Spanish. TaskRabbit does not have its own profiles on social networks. There are no employees in Spain. Everything is arranged from London, ‘with a country manager and several Spanish specialists who specialise in marketing, market operations and market management’. Customer service staff work from Portugal.
Commission to IKEA
Of the amount the customer pays for furniture assembly services, 27% commission goes to TaskRabbit. The rates are different for non-IKEA related tasks (such as standing in line) and for assembling furniture. In the latter case, the company sets the price and the commission goes up. When a freelancer offers other services, the customer can set the rate via the app and the commission is 15%.
IKEA customers pay a fixed rate for furniture assembly through TaskRabbit. Furniture is classified into different classes “to simplify pricing” explains TaskRabbit. It continues: “Taskers set their own rates and schedules and are not required to accept jobs. They are paid 100% of their fees and tips.” The profiles of freelancers vary. Some have no experience, while some already have a business and are looking for new clients. Lack of experience is a constant in stories of clients who have hired TaskRabbit for editing.
Prices vary according to experience: a beginner gets a lower rate than an expert. The app gives several examples of rates: for a sofa bed, a beginner charges €19, an advanced freelancer €20 and an expert €21. TaskRabbit does not check whether a freelancer actually has experience. Whoever wants to earn more, can declare himself an expert. For large jobs, two taskers are linked together who do not know each other. This can lead to irritations between them if one of them has no experience or a different way of working. Freelancers can only tell their story by e-mail. TaskRabbit also hires out accounts to undocumented workers.
Taskers responsible according to TaskRabbit
TaskRabbit shifts all responsibility to the taskers. They are “independent professionals who are responsible for the service they provide to customers. When they join the platform, they themselves declare that they have the necessary skills and experience to perform the tasks they select,” is how the company justifies this approach. “They accept the terms of service and the agreement that they will only provide services for which they have knowledge and that they will do so in a safe and law-abiding manner.”
The company does not monitor the tasks performed, but has a guarantee of up to €10,000 “in case the clients or principals cannot solve the problem by mutual agreement”.
As with similar apps, customers leave a rating for the freelancer. If they disagree with a rating, “they can ask for a review by the trust and security team, which investigates each case”, the company says.
Debate on entrepreneurship
TaskRabbit began in Spain at a time when the debate on self-employment on platforms was in full swing. The Supreme Court ruled that a Glovo delivery driver was wrongly considered self-employed. Several rulings nationwide led to the same verdict in different cases. The attention on companies like Glovo and Deliveroo is increasing and the future law on digital platforms – Ley Rider – is expected to ensure that delivery drivers are employed as employees not freelancers.
Supply and demand at a symbolic price
For Maria Jose Landaburu, secretary of the self-employed association UATAE, platforms should be “a tool for the exchange of goods and services”, charging a ‘token’ fee and leaving the freelancer free to set rates and reject orders. This does not seem to be the case with TaskRabbit, at least when it comes to assembling furniture. “This is not a healthy situation; ultimately the company is working as a subcontractor to IKEA,” says Landaburu. “Instead of setting up an assembly service, IKEA outsources the assembly, sets up an army of freelancers and still makes money through commission. Exploitation of those workers is just another line of business.”
Different points of view
As with other platforms, the views of the company and those of the freelancers differ. Although TaskRabbit maintains that workers are paid “well above per hour”, the tasker’s version is different. Especially when they use it as their main source of income. “I get paid about €1,100 a month. But with the self-employed tax credit and VAT, it comes to about €700. If you use your van, you have to pay those costs,” reports one of the freelancers. “How long will I be able to keep it up? I don’t know, but I have no choice. I don’t have another job. How am I going to survive in Spain?”