What are the working conditions in the platform economy?

Although platform economy provides considerable employment opportunities and worker autonomy, certain concerns have been raised about the workers’ vague employment status (employees vs independent contractors), low pay and non-payment of wages due to work rejection, lack of social protection (due to misclassification as independent workers) and lack of representation (due to geographical spread of workers).

There are also issues of wage theft (where work is rejected and workers are not paid for their work or where riders do not pay or where payments go missing and digital labour platforms considers these as “glitches” in the system) and deactivation of worker’s account (instead of firing them on account of lower ratings and without being given any notice and the opportunity of being heard).  

Interestingly, what started as part-time, flexible, spare time work has now become full time work for millions however these so called “independent contractors” are deprived of any workplace rights, conditions remnant of a century ago. The flexibility of the gig economy has turned into exploitation, with the disappearance of benefits and protections offered by the traditional jobs.

While the mantra of “being your own boss and setting your own working hours’ made the millions join the gig economy, now many feel that they are controlled by an invisible hand, the algorithm.

Gig work is fundamentally piece rate work; the more tasks a person completes, the more he earns. Workers are often earning less than the minimum wage. Delivery workers have to take unpaid “days-off” if they get injured. They do not have all those protections (paid annual leave, sick leave, work injury benefit, severance pay, etc.) that every full time employed worker has despite working 10 hours per day.  The algorithm”deactivates” a rider or delivery person without hearing the person out when rating drop below a certain level.

Researchers have shown that most gig workers use the gig work to “supplement” their income. And the gig economy still perpetuates gender inequality where men earn more for the same gig work. The formal education however does not matter in the crowdwork rather the years of experience and the reputation scores help gain more work.