Future of work and the gig economy
Employment rights in a changing labour market
Ever since the silicon chip first came to prominence, technology has transformed where, when and how people work. For decades commentators have been predicting the end of the post-War model of stable, full-time, permanent employment yet until now the majority of work across Europe has remained obstinately traditional in form.
Research led by Ursula Huws, Professor of Labour and Globalisation at Hertfordshire Business School, concludes the world is facing a sea change in the way work is organised.
The proliferation of online platforms for managing work – from taxi app Uber to small job outsourcer TaskRabbit to crowdworking marketplaces such as Upwork – makes it easier for new workers to enter these labour markets and gives consumers greater choice at lower prices. But this explosion in platform labour also poses real risks to labour standards, particularly among the young.
Whether working in other people’s homes or on the streets, or as part of the growing army of self-employed freelancers working from their own homes, crowd workers face competing for work at diminishing rates of pay - at any time of day and without the benefits that come with stable employment.
As platform labour grows exponentially, policymakers, Huws argues, have the opportunity to identify bold, practical measures that can protect the rights of this expanding workforce. Specifically, she says, they should explore:
- how to give the self employed greater access to the rights enjoyed by those in regular employment;
- more flexible alternatives to current benefits systems;
- how to define the legal status of crowd-working companies to allow for effective regulation.
Otherwise, she says, the much-vaunted ‘sharing economy’ may become nothing more than a 'virtual Wild West'.
Crowd work in Europe report
Commissioned by Brussels-based thinktank Foundation for European Progressive Studies (FEPS) and trade union UNI-Europa, a University of Hertfordshire report presents the results of an innovative series of surveys, which, for the first time, capture the scale and nature of crowd work in the gig economies of five European countries: Austria, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden and the UK.
The research demonstrates a rapidly growing and important phenomenon: some 5%-9% of the online populations in these five economies are being paid for work managed by online platforms at least once a week. And 2.5% of respondents across the five countries – equivalent to one in 40 people – report that paid work managed through online platforms constitute the majority of their monthly income.
Our policy briefing The rise of platform labour: a fair ‘sharing economy’ or virtual Wild West? (PDF - 0.37 Mb) outlines recommendations for how policymakers can react to the changing nature of work and employment in the platform, or gig, economy.
Submissions to public inquiries
The Prime Minister commissioned a review of Employment Practices in the Modern Economy, led by RSA Chief Executive Matthew Taylor. Professor Huws gave oral evidence to the Review session in Cardiff. The Review findings - Good Work: the Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices - were published in July 2017.
The Work and Pensions Select Committee held an inquiry into self-employment and the gig economy to examine whether the UK welfare system adequately supports the growing numbers of self-employed and gig economy workers, and how it might be adapted to suit their needs. Read the written evidence submitted by Professor Huws.
Get in touch
Contact Professor Ursula Huws at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to find out more or to discuss further.
Workers in the gig economy need better protection, University of Hertfordshire academic tells Modern Employment Review
Many workers for online platforms in the gig economy are experiencing the worst of both worlds: subject to tight controls yet without access to standard employment rights and benefits, a University of Hertfordshire academic has told an independent review into the changing world of work.
The digital revolution – including the growth of online intermediary platforms that manage work – must create an economy that works for everyone, the Shadow Minister for Culture and the Digital Economy has said.
The European Commission has pushed back the publication of new guidelines on how existing EU legislation should be applied to the ‘sharing economy’ from March to ‘mid-2016'.
Young people in the UK are “struggling to make a decent wage in an increasingly insecure and casualised labour market in which low pay is endemic”, according to Economics Editor for The Guardian, Larry Elliott, citing new University of Hertfordshire research.
Through her research into the changing nature of work in an increasingly digitised economy, Professor Ursula Huws is advising a key EU advisory body on the impact of the rapid growth of ‘crowd working’ on employment.
Members of the European Parliament have agreed that employment and social security policies must be adapted for the so-called sharing economy, as work managed through online platforms like Uber and Upwork continues to rise.
Professor Ursula Huws presented her research into the future of work in the ‘gig economy’ at a conference in Brussels organised by the second largest political party in the European Parliament.