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Lifting the lid on the gig economy

Published on
19 Feb 2021
Written by
Mark Graham

Fairwork researchers explain how they are shining a light on the experiences of gig workers across the globe by launching a suite of new online materials dedicated to ensuring their voices are truly heard.

Rise of the gig economy

What it’s like working in the gig economy, what it’s like being managed by algorithms, rated on every job and monitored every step of the way? From online freelancing to couriering, domestic work to beauticians, digital platforms are becoming a major means by which people are accessing work. Whilst everyone’s story is unique, workers experiences in the gig economy are shaped by systemic structures, from the algorithms that rate their performance and decide their pay, to the legal status that determines their protections and rights.

Fairwork resources for gig workers

With the precarious nature of gig work in mind, we’re launching the Worker’s Centre, a new section of our project dedicated to developing materials and resources to support platform workers. Our goal with the Workers Centre is to build awareness among workers and labour advocates of existing projects and campaigns, local regulatory responses and effective strategies for platform workers to thrive. As part of the Worker’s Centre, Fairwork has recently launched the Fairwork podcast, a resources and tools database, and the Unions and Workers Associations’ Directory, all now available on the Fairwork website.

Introducing the Fairwork Podcast

The Fairwork Podcast looks at the stories of people working within the gig economy, exploring the intersection between precarity and technology through the lens of our five principles of fair work. Each episode of the initial five-part series will take one Fairwork principles (Fair Pay, Fair Conditions, Fair Contracts, Fair management and Fair Representation) and explore how this area has impacted a worker’s experience. We speak to workers who have made headlines with legal cases, taken part in strikes and those just quietly trying to make a living on the gig economy. Developing the podcast gives us a chance to place the voice of workers at the centre of present discussions around the future of work and hope the series will empower workers by showing why their experiences are important and should be heard.

The first episode of the podcast series focuses on representation. In particular, we look at the Deliveroo Strikes of 2016. This was the first time that workers in the gig economy had mobilised in the UK, taking to the streets to make their voices heard. We explore how the events that took place that summer shaped the lives of workers in the gig economy to this day as we’re still coming to terms with the ramifications of its successes and failures.

Robbie Warin, writer and producer of the Fairwork Podcast, speaks speak to former courier, Mohaan Biswas. Mohaan was working for Deliveroo at the time of the strikes and his involvement in the strikes that summer led to him becoming a major part of attempts to organise gig workers in the UK. We speak about his experience as a Deliveroo rider and the reasons that led him to join the protests.Through Mohaan’s experiences, we explore what it’s like trying to organise and negotiate with gig economy platforms. What are the difficulties talking with a company that doesn’t legally employ you? What happens when hundreds of workers come out from behind the screen to make their voices heard?  You can listen to the first episode on Spotify, iTunes, Amazon Music or on our website

New online Resources and Tools for gig workers

We have curated a list of resources and tools that may be useful for workers navigating work in the gig economy. This includes tools to help workers keep track of active work time and connect to others working in the sector – such as Workerbird or Weclock – as well as sources of information about worker rights, platform policies, and tools that can be used by labour advocates to organize more efficiently.

Unions and Workers Associations’ Directory

Fairwork is also developing a global public directory of unions and membership associations that represents the interests of gig workers and/or online workers in different sectors and locations. The directory aims to raise awareness of the valuable work of unions and associations and help platform workers find local organisations that can provide them with advice and resources.

Supporting gig workers across the globe for a fairer future

Platform work provides essential income and opportunities to tens of millions of people around the world. However, most platform workers are not protected by existing employment law or collective bodies, meaning they face low pay, precarity, and poor and dangerous working conditions. Exceptions from employment law might be limited to sectors like driving and delivery today, but as the platformisation of work expands into more sectors of the economy, it risks becoming the norm for a much wider range of jobs throughout the labour market. By bringing their stories to life through our new podcast and providing gig workers with dedicated online resources we hope to shine the spotlight on the situation of gig workers and ultimately, build a fairer future of work.

The Fairwork project is based at the Oxford Internet Institute and the WZB Berlin Social Science Centre. 

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