"This is the future of work, it's not about replacing people, it is about augmenting people so they know what to do and then capture what they've done to make the next person more efficient."
"We believe we've reached a peak in how much you can make out of machines so the last big nut to crack is around people in the human environment, how can you optimise them?"
These are quotes from two separate platform developers in the US who spoke anonymously to The Future of Work institute for their new report 'The Amazonian Era - the Gigification of work'. The UK-based think-tank has found a massive acceleration in the use of digital technology at work during the covid-19 pandemic. A third of USDAW union members (who generally work in retail, supermarkets and warehouses) said their role had been "extremely" changed by new technology since covid-19.
Many of these changes have ostensibly been brought in to deal with Covid specific issues, like ensuring health and safety compliance on the ground. But these changes are unquestionably permanent, as bosses seek to exert greater control over the work process through what the report calls "the human data cycle": first information is gathered, measured and recorded to create a representation of the work, then a set of standard performance objectives defines, plans and schedules the work algorithmically, and finally penalties and incentives are created to ensure that the worker meets the set standards "such as being rewarded with Amazon vouchers for conducting more than your scheduled tasks, or...being prohibited from accessing more hours, or securing a better contract".
Importantly, this model of algorithmic control is available for managers to download from the app store at the click of a button, so is easily re-produced throughout the economy. One manager said: "There were loads of apps I tried from the app store, I contacted them, got a Zoom meeting, and it went from there. I didn't read much into them, I was more interested in just getting stuck in".
Not every job will be gigified in the same way as a food delivery courier, but that's largely beside the point: companies like Amazon decide whether a non-standard or standard contractual arrangement is preferable based on what is most effective at maximising productivity while keeping labour costs as low as possible. Under either contractual arrangement, the worker is subordinate to the boss in a more exacting way than was ever possible before the algorithm. This momentous change taking place in the world of work has gone almost completely unregulated - the 'Amazonian era' report proposes a host of reforms to ensure data-driven technologies are "designed and deployed to be human-centred, clearly aimed at making work better". But are our politicians even paying attention?
Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator
BRAVE NEW EUROPE, the host of the Gig Economy Project, has launched a fundraiser to sustain the site.
BRAVE NEW EUROPE'S mission is to provide political education which runs counter to neoliberal orthodoxy, and shows alternative paths forward. We don’t believe there is another website in Europe that is playing the same role, so if it was gone tomorrow it would be missed.
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Gig Economy news round-up
- DELIVEROO TO LEAVE SPAIN THIS MONTH: UK-headquartered food delivery platform Deliveroo will fully exit the Spanish market on 29 November, the company has confirmed, after laying off 3,800 riders. Deliveroo, part-owned by Amazon, announced shortly before the 'Riders Law', which establishes a presumption of employment for couriers in the food delivery sector, entered into force that they would be leaving Spain, but they first had to hire their riders so they could issue a collective dismissal procedure, in compliance with the new Law. The company said a "very high level of investment" would be required to be competitive in Spain with a "very uncertain" long-term return. Deliveroo previously pulled out of Germany in 2019 to focus on other markets. Read more here.
- GORILLAS' WORKERS WIN RIGHT TO ESTABLISH WORKS COUNCIL: The Berlin Labour Court decided on Wednesday [17 November] that plans for an election to decide whether to establish a Works' Council at Gorillas, an ultra-fast food delivery platform based in the German capital, can go ahead. Gorillas' management tried to block the vote, which is set to take place from 22-27 November. Hundreds of Gorillas' riders were sacked on mass last month in response to wild cat strikes at the company lead by the Gorillas Workers Collective. The Collective held a demonstration on Tuesday attended by around 600 workers and their allies to demand the re-instatement of the workers and against precarious work more generally. Read more here.
- CCOO WINS IMPROVEMENTS FOR UBER DRIVERS IN SEVILLE: The Spanish union CCOO has negotiated an agreement with Ares Capital, which holds most of the ridehail (VTC) licenses used by Uber drivers in Seville, for a series of improvements to working terms & conditions. Changes agreed by Ares Capital include paying drivers for holiday time and an end to the use of fixed-term contracts which will be replaced by indefinite contracts. Francisco González, CCOO's head of collective bargaining in Seville, said they were happy with the negotiation "taking into account that this company has demonstrated on several occasions anti-union behaviour and abuse of the rights of workers that have even led us to call a strike". Read more here.
- GLOVO FINED €8.5 MILLION FOR NOT EMPLOYING RIDERS IN SEVILLE: Spain's largest food delivery platform has been fined €8.5 million by the Spanish Government's Labour Inspectorate for failing to regularise the contracts of 1,316 riders, who continue to operate on a self-employed basis despite the Rider's Law entering into force on 12 August. Glovo refused to employ 80% of it's 12,000 strong workforce, claiming that a change to their algorithm meant their riders were genuinely self-employed and thus did not contravene the Rider's Law, a position most labour law experts reject. This specific fine relates to an investigation in Seville prior to the passing of the Law, with further penalties expected once Labour Inspectorate investigations post-12 August are completed. Read more here.
- BOLT "LETS DRIVERS NAME THEIR PRICE" IN THE UK: Ride-hail platform Bolt announced this week that it would allow it's 65,000 UK drivers to set their own prices, claiming it would reduce the amount of drivers who are cancelling pick-up's and prevent price-spikes. The move comes just a week after Uber announced a 10% hike in prices in the UK, as part of an effort to make driving for Uber more attractive and address their labour shortage. Unlike Uber, Bolt does not employ its drivers in the UK, and the ADCU union responded to the announcement by saying it was "a desperate attempt to avoid accountability for workers' rights", and said the algorithm change would "quickly profile and prioritise drivers who are prepared to accept ever lower prices". Click here to read more.
- COURT FINDS SUB-CONTRACTED UBER EATS RIDERS ARE UBER EMPLOYEES: A Turin Labour Court has found that Uber Eats riders have the right to have their employment relationship with the company recognised. The 10 riders have been working through a sub-contractor, the Flash Road City company, and told the Judge that they earned just €3 for a delivery, were fined without proper justification and had to work in all weather without insurance or any protections. The company has to pay remuneration to the riders to cover unpaid wages. Uber Italy said the decision referred to a "past and very specific situation" with a sub-contractor they no longer worked with, stating that they no longer work with food delivery sub-contractors in general in Italy. Uber is also considering appealing the decision. Read more here.
Have we missed important news on the gig economy in Europe this week? E-mail Ben at [email protected] to help us improve our news round-up.