Conference Agenda

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Session Overview
JS_RN09_RN17_05: The Gig Economy: Bright and Dark Sides of the Future Labour Market I
Thursday, 22/Aug/2019:
11:00am - 12:30pm

Session Chair: Bernd Brandl, Durham University
Session Chair: Alberto Veira-Ramos, Universidad Carlos III de Madrid
Location: BS.4.06B
Manchester Metropolitan University Building: Business School, Fourth Floor, North Atrium Oxford Road

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Can The Gig Economy Be Compatible With Standard Employment? A Case Study Of Food Delivery Platform In Belgium

Agnieszka Piasna, Jan Drahokoupil

European Trade Union Institute, Belgium

The digital platform economy has a great potential for changing the way work is organized in the society and for disrupting existing employment models. In this new reality, employees are replaced by ‘independent contractors’, and jobs become ‘gigs’. The depart from the standard employment relationship is accompanied by a powerful narrative of flexibility, independence and entrepreneurship, where traditional definitions of dependent employment should no longer apply.

In this paper, we ask whether work in the gig economy is indeed incompatible with standard employment. We explore what are the needs from work of platform workers and to what extent they can be fulfilled within standard employment?

The analysis is based on a case study of one of the largest food delivery platforms, Deliveroo, in Belgium. The case is particularly interesting because the platform hired workers through an intermediary, which gave standard employment status and respective protection to workers. The analysis furthers the understanding of the nature of the flexibility entailed in platform work and the preferences of workers regarding work and employment conditions. We also identify the role of local regulations and institutions.

The case shows that platform work can be carried out within standard employment and it can thrive under standard employment regulations, contrary to the view and practices promoted by the platforms. Standard employment, as opposed to ‘independent contracting’, can be compatible with the business model of the platform economy and, more importantly, also with the flexibility that the workers value.

Between the Old and the New – the Gig Economy and Its Characteristics

Bartosz Mika

University of Gdańsk, Poland

To fully understand the impact of the 'gig economy' on the labour market we have to identify in detail the features of the phenomenon itself. In the proposed speech, we will present the theoretical justification for treating the gig economy as a modern 'cottage industry'. As pointed out by Srnicek or Soderberg the phenomena of platform capitalism have a lot in common with the quite old-fashion "putting-out system" (for example the capitalist is a supplier of the raw material and the employees own the means of work). Furthermore, exactly as the cottage industry, it has its differences and limits. We will indicate the most important of them, distinguishing socio-economic features of crowd-work (e.g. MTurk), work-on-demand via apps (Uber) and renting of owned resources (Airbnb). We will also try to highlight the possible scenarios of future dynamics. If platform capitalism reminds "the putting-out system", the history of the latter can be a lesson for the future of the labour market.

Recruitment Devices in the Gig Economy: How a Labour Supply Takes Shape in the Market for Food Deliveries

Luca Perrig

University of Geneva, Switzerland

The great majority of digital platforms nowadays rely on a freelance workforce. This implies that workers are free to decline any task that is sent to them. A major problem for platforms is thus to ensure a sufficient supply of labor at any time of the day. That is not an easy task and platforms put a lot of effort to mediate labor supply and demand. In this paper, I will argue that platforms intervene on multiple occasions in the process of recruiting workers until completion of the transaction and thus contribute to shaping the market that they create. I will do so drawing from an ethnography of online food deliveries in Western-Switzerland.

The goal of a delivery platform is to conclude as many transactions as possible. To do so, workers should go through a series of stages until completing the task that is sent to them. They should download the app, log-in, be at the right place, at the right time, and accept the orders they receive. At each stage of this process, workers are free to log out, ending the transaction. In order to frame the workers' activity, the platform has to rely on devices and manage its workforce at distance. The user interface, the matching algorithm, the pricing mechanism, and the user ratings come crucial in this endeavor. I will show that both the design and use of these tools are essential to understand the functioning of the market.

Thriving Or Just Surviving: Divergent Inequalities In London’s Gig Economy

George Maier

London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), United Kingdom

Based on interviews with London’s AirBnB Hosts, Uber drivers and Amazon Flex workers, this study highlights the divergent nature of inequalities as income sources become increasingly casualised through digital platforms. While studies have independently shown AirBnB hosts to gain increased income compared to letting their properties in long term markets, others have shown Uber and Amazon Flex workers to find themselves increasingly in positions of financial disadvantage. This paper interrogates these divergent patterns by looking at the changing relationship between capital and labour, alongside the increase of finance-based capitalism. In this study Uber and Amazon Flex workers were found to engage in long periods of unpaid and unrecognised labour as a necessity for using the platform productively – this includes prolonged waiting periods for jobs to become available during which they are encouraged to continuously refresh the app and remain diligent and ready to respond. They are also encouraged into debt obligations (Uber now serving as a credit broker to its drivers), undermining the implied flexibility of such work. Meanwhile, AirBnB hosts in the study made ongoing attempts to distinguish themselves utilising their cultural and economic capital, to stand out and be seen as valuable on the platform. Those with the “right” type of capital needed to be most successful and face the fewest risks on the platform tended to be wealthy, white and male. Hosts who were female, had limited economic or cultural capital reported high levels of risk and discomfort while hosting. This study therefore aims to show how capital and labour relations are being reworked in the gig economy.

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