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Gig economy and industrial relations: beyond food delivery

From Idea Diffusa sulla strada dei diritti, by Davide Dazzi, Ires Emilia Romagna and OpenCorporation reseacher

(Translation by Federico Tani)

Platform capitalism represents the most emblematic form of the capitalist transformations taking place because, at the same time, it marks a continuity with previous trajectories and indicates the emergence of a new type of enterprise on the market. In the idea of opposing industrial relations instruments capable of reading, interpreting and governing this phenomenon, the Filcams nazionale has launched a European project on Gig Economy(VS 2019 0040).

In addition to identifying fragility as a common budgetary trait in many online platforms (high turnovers correspond to marginal or negative profitability – source OpenCorporation), the project report reviews the different trade union experiences in Europe highlighting common trends. Two seem to be the most important points:

  • Facing a lack of organic legislation on the platform system (legislative experiences exist only in France and recently also in Italy), collective bargaining has started to propose reference standards and to protect the working conditions of platform workers. Although they are not yet widely disseminated, there are contractual experiments dedicated to platform workers in several countries (Italy, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland), breaking out of the legal deadlock on employment status (autonomy or subordination) in which legislation is very often stuck;
  • all trade unions show a certain dynamism in trying to intercept platform workers but unions are affected as well by a generally unbalanced public debate on forms of “on location” online work with public visibility: the issue of food delivery is mainly at the centre of trade union commitment, when, in reality, cloud work and domestic work represent more widespread forms of online work with needs and requirements that do not necessarily coincide with those of food delivery (e.g. ratings are often perceived as a way of selecting offers within a very crowded market, and not only as a form of control).

Compared to the latter, a comparative research has highlighted that domestic work exceeds the more visible delivery (food-delivery) and taxi driving (Uber) jobs in most European countries. A report by Eurofound in 2018 also offers a comparison by type of work platform and shows how the weight of cloud workers, the so-called “crowd work”, represents over 30% of digital workers in Europe. The exponential growth of cloud workers is well monitored by the ILO through the online Labour index[1] which is a tool capable of tracking all the “jobs” of 60%-70% of the existing cloud work market in English. The observation not only shows how cloud work has grown by more than 40 percentage points since 2016, but also how a new global distribution of work is taking place: if almost 40% of the demand for labour comes from the United States, more than 60% of the labour supply is in Asian countries, including India with more than 22.5% and in Bangladesh with more than 15%.

Chart 1 – Global cloud work demand (% on total)

Source:  ILO, Otto Kässi, Vili Lehdonvirta, Online labour index: Measuring the online Gig Economy for policy and research, Technological Forecasting and Social Change, Volume 137, 2018, Pages 241-248

Chart 2 – Global cloud work supply (% of total)

Source: ILO, Otto Kässi, Vili Lehdonvirta, Online labour index: Measuring the online Gig Economy for policy and researchTechnological Forecasting and Social Change, Volume 137, 2018, Pages 241-248

[1] For more information on the methodology:

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