How do migrant gig workers perceive their work? University of Amsterdam platform work expert Niels Van Doorn has posted his chapter to the forthcoming 'Handbook of the gig economy' collection to be published by Routledge, and it looks at this question in some depth. 'Liminal Precarity and Compromised Agency: Migrant experiences of gig work in Amsterdam, Berlin, and New York City' is based on eight months of fieldwork in each of these three cities, speaking to migrant food delivery couriers and domestic cleaners. The chapter focuses on the stories of six migrant gig workers specifically which collectively draw out the key findings of the research as a whole.
Four key themes emerge from these stories: 1) 'The best option available'; migrants who find it difficult to access more secure work are attracted to gig work because of its low barriers to entry, the possibility to work all hours of the day and the capacity for ingenuity in switching between different platforms based on which is providing the highest pay and has the most demand at any point in time. 2) 'A means to other ends'; because gig work provides a quick access to an income, it buys migrants time when arriving in a new city before they can then go on to search for and hopefully find a better job. Gig work is seen as transitory, even if that isn't always how it pans out. 3) 'A lifeline and a modicum of security'; for migrants with few options and generally in highly insecure circumstances in their lives, gig work can feel like a source of security. This may seem surprising but if one compares for example informal cleaning work, which could potentially net a higher income but comes with greater risks of violence, robbery and/or legal consequences (e.g. for unpaid taxes), the "regulated deregulation" of gig work can be the safer option, even as it constrains earnings potential. 4) 'The short end of the stick'; platforms do not provide any help in the case of an accident, do not reward longevity, punish workers for taking time-off, and make it almost impossible for workers to establish relationships with their clients independent of the platform. Despite the anger and resentment this fuels in migrant workers, it is much harder for them to break from the platform than for most domestic workers with more options and easier ability to access the welfare system.
Van Doorn concludes that we have to think of the relationship between precarity and platform work for migrants in the round, understanding the wider context of their lives. Looked at in this way, platforms "serve as a stopgap but also act like a trap, throwing out a lifeline that is not actually attached to anything". This assessment leads Van Doorn to question campaigns for employment status in platform work, which "should be preceded by a careful consideration of ways to minimise the harm to those who have so far been excluded from employment’s protective scope".
"Asking this question does not mean ceding ground to Silicon Valley–inspired technofixes or platform lobbyists’ third way solutions but should on the contrary push scholars and policymakers alike to join migrant gig workers in thinking with precarity’s intersecting forms, which remain largely invisible when thinking solely in terms of platform-focused solutions," Van Doorn adds. "This should then result in a set of more radical and expansive policies that simultaneously combat exploitation by low-wage employers, exclusion and predatory inclusion by immigration laws, and other instances of institutionalised vulnerability that form structural obstacles to migrant workers’ flourishing."
Given how fundamental migrant workers are to the on-location platform economy, it would be a mistake for campaigners not to take this perspective seriously. For undocumented migrants in particular, employment status without regularisation in the labour market is very obviously unattractive. Then again, we have seen in Paris in recent weeks that lack of employment status is no protection for undocumented migrants from being fired on mass either. The efforts that are being made by unions and worker collectives in Paris to organise alongside undocumented migrants is an example of the sort of campaigning activity that can give migrant workers a voice in the struggle for rights for all workers in the platform economy.
Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator
Gig economy news round-up
- SPANISH GOVT ASKS FOR INVESTIGATION INTO WHETHER GLOVO IS COMMITTING A CRIMINAL OFFENCE: The Spanish Minister of Labour Yolanda Díaz has ramped up the pressure on Glovo by asking the State Attorney General's office to investigate whether the Spanish food delivery platform has committed a criminal offence by continuing to hire its riders on a self-employed basis. The move comes after the biggest fine on the company for 'fake self-employment' increased by over four times last week with the announcement that a Labour Inspectorate investigation had uncovered fake self-employment in Barcelona and Valencia, issuing a fine totalling €79 million. The possible charge of a criminal offence would see company directors held personally accountable, with possible prison sentences of between six months and six years for breach of article 311 of the Criminal Code. In France, Deliveroo and Stuart Delivery executives have faced suspended prison sentences for "concealed work", as well as being barred from sitting on company boards. The current scope of the investigation only includes Glovo for the moment, but could potentially be extended to Uber Eats, which reverted to a self-employed model earlier this month having previously cited Glovo's non-compliance with 'the Rider's Law' as a factor affecting their competitiveness. Read more here.
- GLOVO HIT WITH ANOTHER FINE, IN GALICIA: The latest financial blow to Spanish food delivery platform Glovo is a €2.3 million fine in the Galician region of Spain in the north-west. Glovo was fined €79 million last week for fake self-employment in Valencia and Barcelona, taking its total fines in Spain to around €150 million. The latest sanction is €1.1 million for not employing its riders and a further €1.2 million for not making social security payments on those employees. Glovo, Spain's biggest food delivery platform, continues to refuse to hire riders despite the passing of the Rider's Law, which established a presumption of employment for app-based food delivery couriers. Spanish Labour Minister Yolanda Diaz has warned more sanctions are in the pipeline, with the current round of fines being based on inspections prior to the introduction of the Rider's Law in August last year. Read more here.
- LABOUR CRITICISED FOR DELIVEROO "PR EVENT": The Labour party in the UK has been rebuked by food delivery couriers after it hosted a Deliveroo "PR event" at the party's annual conference, with no riders among the speakers. Martin Hermoso, a Deliveroo 'engagement manager', was listed on the advertisement for the event as a "Deliveroo rider". It was jointly organised by the British food delivery firm and Progressive Britain, a campaign group on the right of the Labour party. A representative of the GMB union, which signed a controversial recognition agreement with Deliveroo in May, and a Labour MP was also among the speakers. Joe Dudbridge, a Deliveroo rider in the IWGB union, told OpenDemocracy: "“I think it’s telling that they couldn’t even organise a rider to come along and talk. This form of dialogue is largely cosmetic. This was a PR event launched off the back of their deal.” An investigation into Uber by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism last year found that one in three riders made less than the minimum wage. Read more here.
- PARIS PROTESTS AGAIN AGAINST UBER EATS MASS FIRING OF UNDOCUMENTED RIDERS: Protests are continuing in Paris of former Uber Eats riders who were de-activated from the app without notice in recent months, leaving many of them without any source of income. The workers' collective CLAP said that 1,000 undocumented riders mobilised on Saturday against Uber Eats' action and also to demand their "regularisation" in the labour market, after another protest on Tuesday [27 September]. CLAP and unions CNT and Sud Commerces had written to the French Government last week to demand action to widen the scope of its regularisation policy so that those doing app-based work could prove they have been working without being in receipt of official pay cheques. Around 3,000 undocumented riders in Paris have been affected by the mass firing over the last few months, which critics say has been timed with a decline in demand for the company's services. Uber Eats say they are tackling illegal work after carrying out a company audit.
- ANDALUCIA PASSES LAW FOR "COEXISTENCE" OF PRIVATE HIRE PLATFORMS WITH TAXIS: The Andalucian government passed a law just in the nick of time to regulate private hire platforms (VTCs) in the Southern Spanish region, a law that has been criticised by taxi drivers as favouring the platforms. The right-wing PP administration in Andalucia approved the law on Tuesday, which finds that no new licenses can be given out for VTCs until the ratio of 30 VTCs to every one taxi is met, but no licenses which are currently held have been taken away. Currently the ratio is thought to be around six or seven VTCs per taxi. The union Elité Taxi Seville said the law was a "death sentence for the sector". The deadline for passing a new regulation for VTCs in Spain's 'autonomous communities' was 30 September, after which time the cars of private hire platforms like Cabify and Uber would be illegal as the 'Ábalos Law' of the central Spanish Government four years ago, which gave VTCs a temporary license across the country as 'compensation', would have expired. Read more here.
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