Future of work and the gig economy

Employment rights in a changing labour market

A group of employees working on computersEver 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.

Policy briefing

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 u.huws@herts.ac.uk if you would like to find out more or to discuss further.

Latest news

<< >>