Study Reveals Difficult Work Conditions Among Freelance Platform Workers

Study Reveals Difficult Work Conditions Among Freelance Platform Workers

A newly-published study from scholars at Oxford University investigates the situation of the estimated 70 million people around the world who make their living in the gig economy through freelancing platforms like Freelancer.com and Fiverr. Through a combination of face-to-face interviews and a remote survey of digital freelancers in Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, the authors gauged how workers in this substantial segment of the global economy felt about the advantages and disadvantages of this kind of work. TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas outlines the study’s key findings:

The study paints a mixed picture, with — on the one hand — gig workers reporting feeling they can remotely access stimulating and challenging work, and experiencing perceived autonomy and discretion over how they get a job done: A large majority (72 percent) of respondents said they felt able to choose and change the order in which they undertook online tasks, and 74 percent said they were able to choose or change their methods of work.

At the same time — and here the negatives pile in — workers on the platforms lack collective bargaining so are simultaneously experiencing a hothouse of competitive marketplace and algorithmic management pressure, combined with feelings of social isolation (with most working from home), and the risk of overwork and exhaustion as a result of a lack of regulations and support systems, as well as their own economic needs to get tasks done to earn money.

Augmenting the competitive nature of the digital gig economy, the study found, is an imbalance of supply and demand for these workers’ labor: More than half the workers surveyed said there was not enough work available to them. People performing low-skilled tasks on these platforms must take a large number of gigs to earn an adequate income through them.

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Is Uber an ‘Algorithmic Manager’?

Is Uber an ‘Algorithmic Manager’?

The question of whether Uber, Lyft, and other ridesharing platforms “manage” the drivers who work through them is the subject of much controversy and multiple class-action lawsuits by drivers who say they are employees, not independent contractors as Uber and Lyft consider them. A fascinating new study in the International Journal of Communication explores how Uber uses “algorithmic management” to exercise control over its drivers’ work habits without technically “managing” them. The study examines several means by which Uber’s platform regulates how drivers use it:

Blind Passenger Acceptance and Minimum Fares

When active Uber drivers receive a ride request through the system, they have about 15 seconds to accept it or reject it. When Uber drivers accept a ride request, they take on the risk that the ride’s fare will not be profitable; yet, drivers are not shown destination or fare information before they accept a ride. Jason from Raleigh, North Carolina, who had driven for about a year, said, “You’re driving around blind. When it does ping, you might drive 15 minutes to drive someone half a mile. There’s no money in it in that point, especially in my SUV.” Although hiding the destination before a driver chooses to accept or decline a ride request can potentially prevent destination-based discrimination, it can also foster reduced wages for drivers. In addition, drivers risk “deactivation” (being suspended or removed permanently from the system) for cancelling unprofitable fares. …

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