Oxford report reveals best and worst practices in gig economy

Eleven of the UK’s most popular digital labour platforms have been rated according to how fairly they treat workers.  In the first study of its kind in the UK, Oxford researchers score companies on standards such as pay, conditions, management and representation.

E-cargo company Pedal Me topped the ranking with a score of 8/10. The study found that most other companies fail to ensure many minimum standards of fair work – such as allowing workers to earn below the national minimum wage. At the bottom of the league table were digital platforms Bolt, Ola and Amazon Flex which failed to score any points in the Fairwork ratings.

Co-author Dr Alessio Bertolini said: “For the first time we have looked at companies offering taxi services, food delivery and courier and domestic services to rate them on how they treat their employees. This provides a helpful guide for customers who use these platforms and the businesses that work with them. In this UK report, we found Pedal Me the highest scoring platform as it offers all its workers an employment contract, entitling them to many employment rights from which UK platform workers are typically excluded.

The new report, “Fairwork UK Ratings 2021: Labour Standards in the Platform Economy” co-authored by Oxford researchers, Dr Alessio Bertolini, Dr Matthew Cole, Professor Mark Graham, Srujana Katta, Daniel Arubayi and Funda Ustek-Spilda ranks platforms against the five standards, giving each company a score out of ten.  The Oxford team finds that the majority of the eleven platforms are failing to meet the basic standards of fairness when benchmarked against the Fairwork principles.

Key findings from the Fairwork UK Ratings report 2021:

  • Fair Pay – Only 2 of the 11 platforms demonstrate their workers are guaranteed to be paid the minimum wage after costs. Researchers found no evidence of any platform guaranteeing workers would be paid the living wage after costs.
  • Fair Conditions – 6 out of the 11 platforms provide sufficient protection from the task-related risks in their daily work
  • Fair Contracts – 5 out of the platforms analysed provided evidence of clear and accessible contracts or terms of service
  • Fair Management – only 4 of the 11 platforms assessed by researchers have a formalized process where workers can appeal decisions
  • Fair Representation – only one platform, Pedal Me, had committed to implementing a process enabling workers to share their collective views with management

Co-author Dr Matthew Cole said: “The measurement of paid working time is a key point of contestation for many gig workers, and indeed workers more generally. We found most platform companies do not guarantee that their workers earn a minimum wage. This is most often due to the significant amount of unpaid waiting time workers experience when working.”

Publishing this study, researchers from the Oxford Internet Institute, part of the University of Oxford, are calling for stronger protections for UK gig workers, more robust labour standards in the UK platform economy, and for firms to sign up to a pledge to do more for their employees.

Professor Mark Graham, Professor of Internet Geography at Oxford Internet Institute and Director of Fairwork, said:

“The low scores of many popular platforms in the Fairwork UK league table clearly demonstrates the need for regulatory intervention to ensure gig workers are no longer falling through the cracks, exacerbated through the pandemic.   As part of our vision for a fairer future of work, we’re setting out a pathway to realise that ambition and one of the ways we’re doing that, in addition to calling for tougher regulation, is through the launch of the Fairwork Pledge.  We urge others to sign up to the pledge today and help our vision of fair work become a reality for all platform workers.”

Benjamin Knowles, Rider and CEO, Pedal Me said,

“Logistics work requires hard work, resilience and attention to detail. It is important to us that we treat our staff fairly, with dignity and kindness for all the hard work they do.  For that reason, we’ve steered away from gig economy models designed to evade tax and employer responsibility.  I’m excited to see us being recognised for our work in this area, and comparisons being drawn with our less honourable competitors.  We look forward to stronger government action to tackle the actions of these gig economy based companies who are not only doing a disservice to their staff in denying them their status as employees or workers – often illegally, as repeatedly found by the courts – but also cutting the taxman out and avoiding playing their part in contributing to society.”

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary, TUC said,

“Everyone deserves to be treated fairly at work. But these Fairwork scores reveal that household names in the gig economy, such as Amazon’s delivery arm Amazon Flex, are failing to meet the most basic requirements on workers’ pay and rights.  These platforms are using new technologies to carry out the age-old practice of worker exploitation. But the gig economy’s exploitative model is nearing the end of the road. The Supreme Court recently ordered Uber to give its workers the same basic rights as everyone else. Other gig employers must follow suit.  Unions won’t rest until pay and conditions have improved for gig workers. Ministers must stop letting gig economy platforms off the hook, boost workers’ rights and end the scourge of insecure work.”

As part of Fairwork’s commitment to making platforms accountable for their practices, the team is also launching the Fairwork Pledge as part of the UK report recommendations.  The pledge aims to encourage other organisations to support best labour practices, guided by the five principles of fair work.  Organisations have the option to sign up to the Pledge as an official Fairwork Supporter or an official Fairwork Partner. Those signing up to be a Supporter must demonstrate their support for fairer platform work publicly and provide their staff with appropriate resources to make informed decisions in their supply chains.  Organisations engaging as a Fairwork Partner entails making a public commitment to implement changes in their own employment practices.

This latest report builds on the findings of previous country specific Fairwork ratings reports for Germany, South Africa, India and Ecuador.  The Fairwork team has also published reports on the impact of Covid 19 and the gig economy.

For more information please call +44 (0)1865 287 210 or contact press@oii.ox.ac.uk.

Notes for editors:

About the research

The report was funded by the European Research Council (ERC) . The findings are based on desk research, direct communication with platforms and interviews with gig workers at 11 platforms in the UK, between October 2020 and January 2021.

About the OII

The Oxford Internet Institute (OII) is a multidisciplinary research and teaching department of the University of Oxford, dedicated to the social science of the Internet. Drawing from many different disciplines, the OII works to understand how individual and collective behaviour online shapes our social, economic and political world. Since its founding in 2001, research from the OII has had a significant impact on policy debate, formulation and implementation around the globe, as well as a secondary impact on people’s wellbeing, safety and understanding. Drawing on many different disciplines, the OII takes a combined approach to tackling society’s big questions, with the aim of positively shaping the development of the digital world for the public good. https://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/