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Towards an Understanding of Workers' Experiences in the Global Gig Economy

Date of Publication: 
May 2018
Publication Type: 
Published by: 
University of Toronto

Title: Towards an understanding of workers' experiences in the global gig economy

Author: Uttam Bajwa et al.

Year: 2018

Highlights (excerpt from the report)

“Gigs” – short-term contracts mediated by digital platform businesses – are increasing, and have the potential to transform the future of work in Canada and globally. The work is precarious – meaning it is temporary, contract-based, low paid, and provides no training, health, or retirement benefits.

• Global and country-level policies have not kept pace with the “gigification” of the labour market. Gig workers are being left behind because they are excluded from existing skills development, health, and social protection policies, which are designed for the traditional labour market.

• Definitions of the gig, “on demand” or “platform labour” economy vary. In this report, we focus on labour platforms (such as Uber or Amazon Mechanical Turk), which mediate work, but exclude capital platforms (such as Airbnb), which facilitate the renting, selling, and buying of assets. We identify ten characteristics of the gig economy through the lens of workers’ experiences. These characteristics relate to where and how work is mediated through platform businesses, the size and structure of these platforms, the nature of the tasks performed, how workers are classified, and who benefits from gig transactions.

• The gig economy involves many actors with different power dynamics between them. Our review identified seven groups of actors – workers, users (or consumers), platform businesses, the industries disrupted, unions, governments, and the general public.

• Measuring the size of the gig economy is challenging because the work is largely invisible and not captured by existing labour market statistics and economic indicators.

• Gig work differs from traditional modalities of work in terms of the employer-employee relationship, especially the lack of accountability from platform businesses around worker protection; the disaggregation of jobs, which enables the outsourcing of microtasks; and, the disaggregation of workers, who remain disconnected from each other.

• Though this profile is changing, gig workers are predominantly young, white, and male, with higher education levels compared to the national average. The literature is generally silent on the experiences of Canadian gig workers. • Workers participate in the gig economy for extra money and because of its flexibility, though more research is required to assess how well these goals are realized.

• Gig work has major implications for the socioeconomic well-being of workers. We classify their vulnerabilities by the way the platform labour is structured, the precarious nature of the work, and the occupation-based risks arising from how the work is performed.

• Government, private sector, and worker responses to these vulnerabilities all focus on access to benefits as well as employee misclassification and worker information sharing.

• Several knowledge gaps we identified include the need for more research on the different meanings of gig work; the experiences of gig workers and vulnerable subgroups such as women, immigrants, youth, and older workers in Canada; representative national surveys of the gig economy; and studies comparing gig and nongig workers’ experiences of precarious employment.

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