Tracking the digital footprint

Tuesday 28 November 2017

Yesterday, UNI Europa and the Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS), in partnership with the University of Hertfordshire, held a conference to present the report “Work in the European Gig Economy – Research results from the UK, Sweden, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy”. The report presents the results of an innovative survey across seven European countries, revealing, for the first time, the extent and characteristics of crowd workers.

There is much talk about the disruptive potential of digitalisation and the sharing economy on labour markets. But surprisingly little is known about the realities of ‘gig work’ and the new types of employment created by online platforms. The event promoted an open debate on the new forms of labour including speakers from EU institutions, academia, unions, new businesses and think tanks.

Oliver Roethig, Regional Secretary of UNI Europa, the European services union, said “the gig economy opens the door to a new world of ‘just-in-time’ work. Crowd workers are often part of a ‘hidden’ work force who do not have a stable income, relying on daily or weekly payslips.”

He continued “employment relationships are also fading and most gig workers often see themselves as ‘temporary workers’. We need inclusive EU legal frameworks to ensure that crowd workers get the same protection afforded to all workers. It is essential that the right to unionise and to collectively bargain reaches crowd workers as soon as possible.”

Ernst Stetter, Secretary General of FEPS, stated “surveys clearly show that the transition to an increasingly digitalised work environment is affecting people’s health. Interviews with crowd workers reveal a range of physical and psycho-social health hazards, some of which are linked to working long hours, including long and unpredictable waiting periods (for which no payment is received). The main challenge is to make sure that European working and employment standards apply to all workers whether working in the traditional or platform economy.”

Ursula Huws, Professor of Labour and Globalisation at the University of Hertfordshire and lead author of the report, said:

“One of the most striking findings from our research is the impossibility of drawing a sharp line between gig economy workers and others.

“What appears to be happening is a move towards a general ‘platformisation’ of European labour markets, where work for online platforms represents part of a broad spectrum of casual, on-call work spreading across diverse industries and occupations in a complex intermingling of the ‘old’ and the ‘new’.

“This suggests the solution to addressing the growing precariousness and disentitlement of gig economy workers is not to create a special set of regulations to protect them as this risks watering down existing rights of employees. What we desperately need is a new bill of rights that clarifies the rights and obligations of all workers and all employers.”

The transition towards a digitalised economy, largely based on online labour exchanges for paid work, is eroding traditional employment models and weighing heavily on working conditions and labour standards in Europe. Under current legal conditions, the digitalised economy lacks a coherent legal framework, which can result in a deterioration of working conditions and social protection, such as having no income security, no sick pay and no pension contributions.

Given the ‘online’ essence of these forms of production, traditional labour regulation and policies may be less effective in rebalancing asymmetries in the working environment. Nonetheless, as the digital economy becomes more and more embedded into our society, debates on policies and strategies is critical.

Read the full version of the study

Read the short version of the study

The Digital Footprint Project, jointly set up by FEPS and UNI Global Union/UNI Europa, in cooperation with the University of Hertfordshire, aims at analysing the implications of the digital revolution on the labour market as well as providing a policy proposal to address asymmetries in labour conditions between ordinary labour and digital labour.