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.
The New York City Council passed legislation on Wednesday to put a one-year cap on for-hire vehicle licenses and to empower the city government to set a minimum wage for ridesharing drivers, in a crackdown on the largely unregulated growth of platforms like Uber and Lyft, the New York Times reported:
The proposal to cap ride-hail companies led to a clash among interest groups with taxi industry officials saying the companies were dooming their business and Uber mounting a major advertising campaign to make the case that yellow cabs have a history of discriminating against people of color.
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker, said the bills will curtail the worsening traffic on the streets and improve low driver wages. … But Uber has warned its riders that the cap could produce higher prices and longer wait times for passengers if the company cannot keep up with the growing demand.
New York is the largest market for Uber in the US, but already regulated ridesharing more stringently than many other American cities. To address concerns about unfair competition from the local taxi industry, New York requires drivers to obtain special licenses from the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission, along with commercial liability insurance and special plates for their vehicles, which must meet certain eligibility criteria.
The new will not affect Uber and Lyft drivers who are already licensed to operate in the city, but will pause the issuing of new licenses immediately while the city studies the effects of the rise of ridesharing on traffic, driver wages, and the local economy.
Short-term assignments are becoming more popular among skilled professionals in India, the Economic Times reported this week, with an emerging “white-collar gig economy” in IT implementation, marketing, design, and other fields reflecting these professionals’ desire for more flexibility and control over their careers:
It’s early days, but as more Indians opt for new work arrangements, interest is growing across age and experience brackets. Leading the charge are young employees with five-plus years of experience, confident in their abilities to do well even without the cushion of a permanent job, and mid-career people who have built up a nest egg and now want more flexibility and a work-life balance. …
Three months ago, EY launched GigNow, a tech platform that connects people seeking short-term employment options or flexibility with EY in India. Sandeep Kohli, national director for HR at EY, told ET that over 70 such jobs are on offer on the platform and almost 700 people have applied. Initially, it started with consulting and now it has added finance and HR gigs. The next step is to launch a GigNow for women.
While Indian professional culture has historically put a premium on strong ties between employees and their employers, times are changing. Indian Millennials, like young professionals around the world, are putting greater emphasis on autonomy and work-life balance. Greater flexibility is also seen as a key tool for encouraging Indian women to remain in the workforce after having children. To that end, Indian entrepreneurs are establishing online recruiting platforms and coworking spaces specifically geared toward connecting women with flexible work or facilitating the launch of their own businesses.
A recent article at the Economist described Uber’s user rating system for drivers as a strategy for supplanting traditional performance management, arguing that these ratings “increasingly function to make management cheaper by shifting the burden of monitoring workers to users.” Uber has an interest in ensuring that customers have a consistently good experience and thus is harmed when drivers perform poorly, but instead of devoting resources to monitoring and managing drivers’ performance, it counts on customers to assess it instead. Meanwhile, the platform gives drivers a strong incentive to earn high marks, “aligning the firm’s interests with those of workers,” with the risk of being deactivated if their average rating falls too low.
This type of outsourced performance rating has expanded outside of the gig economy, the author adds, pointing to the ratings and feedback companies increasingly solicit from customers online after they interact with employees, such as in a customer service call.
As the Economist points out, user ratings systems are an attractive method for crowdsourcing the monitoring of employee performance without having to spend the time, money, and effort of having managers do it themselves. And it’s no surprise that organizations are looking for an easy way out. Our own data at CEB, now Gartner, shows that 55 percent of managers believe performance management is too time consuming, and only 4 percent of HR leaders believe their current process accurately assesses performance. With all the effort that has ostensibly been wasted trying to fix performance management, leaving it up to the wisdom of the crowd sure is tempting.
This makes a lot of sense for Uber, which treats its drivers as contractors and will never need them to perform a task other than driving. Customer ratings may be all the performance information Uber needs to decide whether or not to allow a driver to continue working on its platform. With more conventional models of employment, this usually isn’t an option, so most organizations that choose to integrate user ratings into their performance management process must do so more carefully.
Pared, an on-demand hiring platform for restaurant workers, has raised a $10 million financing round led by CRV, TechCrunch reported last week. The platform aims to help restaurants fill last-minute staff shortages, particularly in back-of-house roles like line cooks and dishwashers, but could conceivably be used for waitstaff and other front-of-house positions as well:
Restaurants go to the app and say they are looking for what the app calls a ‘Pro’ in whatever role they need, and are able to book the employee right away for the slot they have in their schedule. It might come at a slight premium over the typical hire, but restaurants are already willing to pay overtime in order to cover those gaps and keep things moving smoothly, [co-founder Dave] Lu said.
For employees, it’s a pretty similar experience — they see a job posted on the app, with a time slot, and they make themselves available for an hourly wage. The second benefit, Lu said, is that they can start to slowly make a name for themselves if they are able to prove out their skills and move up the ranks at any of those restaurants. The culinary community is a small one, he said, and it offers a lot of room to start building up a reputation as an exceptional chef or just finally get a first shot at a sauté position in the kitchen after working at the back of the house. That, too, might be part of the appeal of jumping on a service like Pared rather than just driving for Uber.
Pared is part of a growing ecosystem of platforms offering an “Uberized” approach to hiring hourly workers in various roles. By catering exclusively to restaurants and promising to help chefs build their personal brands, Pared is looking to build its own reputation as a reliable place to find quality kitchen talent on short notice.
These new platforms are emerging in retail and food service to address these industries’ unique staffing and scheduling challenges: Customer traffic is variable, but employees’ availability may not be. To address this mismatch, technological solutions are being built to help connect businesses in need of shift workers on short notice with employees willing to take those shifts, on the employees’ terms. For instance, Legion, another startup that raised $10.5 million in first-round funding last year, is using big data to better predict customer traffic and schedule the right amount of staff in advance.
Deliveroo, an Uber-like platform that connects restaurants with delivery workers, is one of several UK companies whose employment practices have been the subjects of public scrutiny and litigation over the past two years as the country wrestle with the contradictions between its existing labor laws and the rise of the “gig economy.” Deliveroo was sued last year by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which argued that delivery couriers working through its platform were not self-employed independent contractors as the company contended. While plaintiffs in other gig economy classification suits have succeeded in the British court system, Deliveroo prevailed last November, when the Central Arbitration Committee found that its delivery workers were indeed self-employed, because they had a contractual right to allocate a substitute to do the work for them.
The IWGB appealed to the High Court of Justice, however, from which the union secured a ruling last week that it could pursue a partial judicial review of the CAC’s decision as a human rights issue, TechCrunch’s Natasha Lomas reported on Thursday:
[T]he judge only gave permission for a judicial review on “limited grounds”, relating to whether certain categories of self-employed individuals should have the ability to unionize. “We have been given permission to argue that Deliveroo is breaching the human rights of our members. This is no longer an employment rights matter, this is a human rights matter,” a union rep said outside court after the ruling. …
UK plumber Gary Smith has won his case against his former employer Pimlico Plumbers in the Supreme Court, which rejected the company’s contention that Smith had been self-employed and upheld his claim to basic workers’ rights like paid leave, Jo Faragher reports at Personnel Today:
Smith’s case against Pimlico Plumbers, which has been running since 2011, is the latest in a long line of legal challenges on employment status, and “is in line with a number of recent decisions relating to gig economy workers”, according to Jeremy Coy, an associate in the employment team at law firm Russell-Cooke.
He said: “The judgment of the UK’s highest court underlines the point that simply labelling workers ‘self-employed’ does not guarantee the corresponding legal status. The nature of the relationship and the degree of bargaining power and obligation between the parties is crucial in determining workers’ rights.”
Smith had prevailed in the Court of Appeal last year, but Pimlico challenged that ruling in the high court, which took up the case in February. The company considered Smith a self-employed independent contractor, and he was described as such in his agreement with Pimlico and in his tax filings. Smith did not claim to be an “employee” of the company, but rather a “worker”—a designation specific to UK law that falls between “employee” and “contractor” and entitles an individual to certain rights like a minimum wage and paid annual leave. The Court of Appeal had ruled in Smith’s favor largely on the basis that his contract with Pimlico required him to provide his services personally, such that he could not re-subcontract the work out to someone else.
In ruling for Smith, however, the Supreme Court stressed that its decision rested on the unique facts of the case and did not establish any new legal guidelines for employers to follow in determining whether they could safely classify workers as self-employed, much to the dismay of UK employers and their attorneys: