Empowering the Freelance Economy

Gig sites exploiting “ghost workers” says Oxford study

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Oxford report shows some freelance platforms fail minimum fairness standards. See which major English-language platforms were among those at the bottom of the scale and which ranked highest. Plus commentary on the latest on the Deliveroo appeal verdict and why some believe the UK gig economy is an “untenable mess”.

  • Fair Pay – only 2 of the 11 platforms, Workana and Appen, had policies to ensure that the vast majority of workers earned at least their local minimum wage
  • Fair Conditions – 12 out of 17 platforms provided protection from the task-related risks in their daily work
  • Fair Contracts – only 5 of the 17 platforms analysed provided evidence of clear and accessible contracts or terms of service that did not require workers to waive key rights to legal challenges like class actions
  • Fair Management –over half of all platforms, 9 out of 17, had a formal due process in place enabling workers to appeal decisions like job rejections and account suspension
  • Fair Representation – only 3 platforms, Appen, Clickworker and Jovoto could demonstrate that workers had access to fair representation
Companies House to pause voluntary and compulsory strike off processes for one month
The Oxford report calls for greater protections for gig workers across the globe

While online work has been associated with freedom and empowerment and a borderless labour market, a new report by the Oxford Internet Institute, part of the University of Oxford, finds that these ‘ghost’ workers often face low pay, risky and exploitative conditions, opaque disciplinary systems and little to no bargaining power. 

The Oxford report calls for greater protections for gig workers across the globe.

Millions of people across the world now work remotely for freelance and microwork platforms, creating a largely invisible workforce, often based in low-income countries, that offer outsourcing services to international clients and help power AI systems.

The researchers examined labour practices across ‘cloudwork’, also known as crowdsourcing available on platforms and online sites that mediate jobs that can be done remotely from translation and design gigs to short microtasks that help train AI systems. 

The Fairwork Foundation report, ‘Work in the Planetary Labour Market: Fairwork Cloudwork Ratings’ 2021,  rates the labour conditions of 17 cloudwork platforms based on research including surveys with 792 workers in 75 countries.

Which gig platforms have the best conditions and pay?

The report assesses each platform against the five Fairwork principles of Fair Pay, Fair Conditions, Fair Contracts, Fair Management and Fair Representation, giving each company a score out of ten.

In the report,  Jovoto and TranscribeMe top the league table jointly, awarded 7/10 by the Fairwork Fairwork team. The following major English-language platforms were among those at the bottom of the league table, all scoring 0 to 1 points in the Fairwork ratings:

  • Amazon Mechanical Turk
  • Rev
  • PeoplePerHour
  • freelancer.com 

Lead author of the report Dr Kelle Howson, Researcher, Oxford Internet Institute said, “As more and more workers from a large variety of sectors and professions become subsumed into the cloudwork labour market, especially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, they fall through the cracks of national labour protections. 

“As a result of this, all too often workers end up losing their right to a minimum wage, a collective voice and protection from discrimination and unfair dismissal. Regrettably, the scores in our report show that unfair and insecure work is the norm on most cloudwork platforms – a situation that calls for regulatory responses on a national and international level.”

UK gig economy “untenable mess” says IPSE Policy Director

Britain’s Court of Appeal has reported that riders for food delivery firm Deliveroo are in fact self-employed, dismissing a union appeal against past judgments on their status, reported Reuters.

UK courts have now tested and upheld the self-employed status of Deliveroo riders four times, according to a Deliveroo spokesperson.

“Deliveroo’s model offers the genuine flexibility that is only compatible with self-employment, providing riders with the work they tell us they value,” said the spokesperson.

Dave Chaplin, CEO of contracting authority ContractorCalculator commented on the recent Deliveroo appeal.

“The Deliveroo ruling once again demonstrates that employment status is complex and gig-economy cases are very fact-sensitive,” said Chaplin.

“A lay-person looking on will wonder why Uber drivers were declared workers not so long ago whilst Deliveroo rides are not.  It begs the question ‘what’s the difference between delivering a person or a package’?  The answer – the point is not relevant in law.  Flexibility is beneficial for economies, but when co-dependent relationships crystallise to one akin to regular employment then rights should surely follow?  But, where this isn’t the case, parties should be able to enter into contracts in good faith and expect them to hold up in law, with no interference,” said Chaplin.

Andy Chamberlain, Director of Policy at IPSE sees the state of the UK gig economy as an “untenable mess”.

“This ruling shows yet again the untenable mess that prevails in the UK gig economy, where self-employment can only be confirmed through the courts. We cannot persist in a situation where the only way to show someone’s self-employed status in the UK is through the courts,” said Chamberlain.

“We urge government to step in and clear the confusion in the gig economy, which arises from the fact that while UK law clearly defines worker and employee status, there is still no definition of what it is to be self-employed. We believe the only way to resolve this is to write a statutory definition of self-employment into UK law – not only to secure the rights of people who should properly be classed as workers, but also to protect the freedom of legitimately self-employed people,” he said.

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