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Gigging away your rights

Gigging away your rights


The rise of the platform economy, also known as the gig economy, has been accompanied by growing concerns about its impact on workers' rights. However, the benefits of the platform economy have come at a cost, particularly for workers. In this article, we explore how the platform economy is undermining workers' rights, eroding job security and leaving many without access to basic protections and benefits. 


THE platform economy, also known as the gig economy, is a rapidly growing economic system where individuals provide labor or services on a digital platform or app. It has become increasingly popular in recent years, with companies such as Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb leading the way. However, despite the convenience and flexibility it offers, the platform economy has been heavily criticized for its impact on workers' rights. 

One of the main criticisms of the platform economy is that it erodes workers' rights. Unlike traditional employment arrangements, where workers are classified as employees and are entitled to various legal protections and benefits, platform workers are typically classified as independent contractors or self-employed individuals, which means they are not entitled to the same protections and benefits. 

For example, platform workers are not entitled to minimum wage or overtime pay, which means they may end up earning less than the minimum wage in some cases. They also do not have access to benefits such as healthcare, sick leave, or retirement benefits, which can leave them financially vulnerable if they become ill or injured. 

Furthermore, platform workers are not covered by the same anti-discrimination laws as employees, which means they may be more vulnerable to discrimination based on their gender, race, or other characteristics. They may also face difficulties accessing legal remedies if they are subjected to harassment or discrimination in the workplace. 

Automated management

Another concern is that platform companies often rely on algorithms and automated systems to manage their workforce, which can lead to a lack of transparency and accountability. This can make it difficult for workers to understand how their work is being evaluated and can make it more challenging for them to challenge unfair treatment. 

There are numerous examples of how platform companies have eroded workers' rights. For example, in 2019, the ride-hailing company Uber was accused of misclassifying its drivers as independent contractors rather than employees. This classification meant that Uber drivers were not entitled to benefits such as minimum wage or overtime pay. In the same year, Uber was also accused of discriminating against drivers based on their race and gender. 

Another example is the food delivery company DoorDash, which has been accused of stealing tips from its delivery workers. In 2019, DoorDash changed its payment model, which meant that tips from customers were used to cover the workers' base pay rather than being paid on top of it. This change meant that some workers were earning less than they were before, despite the company's claims that the new model would increase their earnings. 

Additionally, platform companies often require workers to sign contracts that contain clauses that limit their ability to challenge unfair treatment. For example, many platform companies require workers to sign arbitration agreements, which means that they are required to settle disputes with the company through private arbitration rather than through the courts. This can make it more difficult for workers to challenge unfair treatment and can limit their access to legal remedies. 

Necessary changes

To rectify the situation and protect workers' rights, several changes are needed in the labor market. Firstly, there needs to be a clearer legal definition of what constitutes an employee versus an independent contractor. Currently, many platform companies classify their workers as independent contractors to avoid providing them with the legal protections and benefits that employees are entitled to. Clarifying the legal definition would ensure that workers are classified correctly and receive the appropriate protections. 

Secondly, there needs to be greater transparency and accountability in how platform companies manage their workforce. This could be achieved through measures such as requiring companies to provide workers with clear and understandable information about how their work is being evaluated and how they are being paid. It could also involve introducing greater oversight of platform companies to ensure that they are complying with labor laws and regulations. 

Thirdly, workers in the platform economy need to have greater access to legal remedies if they are subjected to harassment, discrimination, or unfair treatment. This could involve introducing new legal protections for platform workers or making it 

ILO leading the fight

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has been at the forefront of addressing the issue of workers' rights in the platform economy. In 2019, the ILO launched a report entitled "Work in the Digital Economy," which examined the impact of digital platforms on the world of work and identified key policy recommendations to ensure that workers' rights are protected. 

The ILO has also been involved in the development of international labor standards related to the platform economy. In 2020, the ILO adopted a new international labor standard, known as Convention 190, which addresses violence and harassment in the world of work, including in the platform economy. This convention calls for the protection of all workers, including those in non-standard forms of employment, such as platform workers. 

In addition to the ILO, the international labor movement has also been active in addressing the problem of workers' rights in the platform economy. Trade unions around the world have been organizing and advocating for the rights of platform workers, calling for better pay, benefits, and protections. 

For example, in the United Kingdom, the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) has been organizing gig workers and has successfully brought legal challenges against companies such as Uber and Deliveroo over workers' rights. In the United States, the Freelancers Union has been advocating for better protections for freelance workers, including those working in the platform economy. 

Progress in Scandinavia

In Scandinavia, the gig economy has also been a topic of discussion and debate. In countries like Sweden and Denmark, there has been a push to provide more protections for workers in the gig economy. For example, in 2020, Denmark passed a law that gave platform workers the right to negotiate their pay and working conditions through collective bargaining. Similarly, in Sweden, the government has proposed changes to the labor laws to provide better protections for platform workers. These developments in Scandinavia demonstrate a growing recognition of the need to address the challenges faced by workers in the platform economy, and highlight the importance of finding solutions that can provide workers with the necessary protections and benefits. 

Overall, the ILO and the international labor movement have played an important role in addressing the problem of workers' rights in the platform economy. Through their advocacy and policy recommendations, they have highlighted the need for greater protections and legal clarity for platform workers. However, more needs to be done to ensure that these recommendations are implemented, and that workers' rights are protected in the rapidly evolving world of work. 


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