More and more jobs are falling into the category of “gig” work – think Uber or Deliveroo – but we don’t know nearly as much about this kind of work as traditional employment, a gap that a new initiative, Gig Watch, plans to fill.
Gig Watch will be run by a team of researchers at the University of Technology Sydney and will aim to provide tools and data for gig workers, employers, policy makers, researchers and consumers, to allow a better understanding of the gig economy and to inform decision-making.
UTS Associate Professor Sarah Kaine says while there is a lot of hype about the gig economy, there isn’t a lot of actual data about its size, the companies offering the work, who is doing the work or what working conditions are like.
“We have more and more services available at the tap of our phones, not just Uber, but a rapidly growing range of digital platforms and apps used to connect workers with people wanting work done,” she says.
“The gig economy is a key trend shaping the future of work in Australia, so we need better information on how it operates. With more than 80,000 people registered as Uber drivers alone, the number of gig workers in Australia is substantial,” she says.
Professor Kaine says there is a danger for society in developing policy for workers and platform providers in the gig economy based on an idea of what’s happening rather than actual data about what’s really going on.
“It’s technology based, and that’s kind of hip and groovy, so it seems like it must be a good thing, but that is not necessarily the case. We want to understand the good and the bad. Gig Watch will collect, analyse and publish data from organisations and workers, with a focus on working conditions.”
Current gig workers are invited to share their experiences via a survey on the Gig Watch website. The survey will explore questions such as: ‘What is it like to do the job? Is it a main job or a supplementary job? What are interactions with the platform like? and are there out of pocket costs?
This will help researchers develop a better understanding of working conditions and standards around areas such as hours worked, rates of pay, superannuation and insurance, as well as information about particular sectors or markets for gig work.
Gig Watch data will contribute to a greater understanding of the economic and social implications of the gig economy; for example, the impact of the gig economy on existing industries and the contribution of gig work to economic growth.
“It will allow the development and production of comprehensive reports on the nature of the gig economy labour market. This will fill a significant gap in knowledge about this growing part of the economy,” says Associate Professor Kaine.
“It will also help policymakers understand whether employment and labour market policy settings need to be adjusted to meet the needs of workers and organisations operating in the gig economy,” she says.
Associate Professor Kaine notes there are currently a lot of ambiguities around employment, with confusion around whether workers are employees, independent contractors or something in between.
“Gig economy work is characterized by its short-term nature, with workers are often engaged as contractors rather than employees, and organisations operating in the gig economy are not always transparent about the way they operate,” says Associate Professor Kaine.
“This has resulted in public concern about their operation and a lack of trust among consumers. The comprehensive data collected by Gig Watch will shed light on the extent to which these concerns are justified or not,” she says.
The OECD has estimated that on-line platforms for information, goods and services dominate the top 15 of the world’s largest internet based companies, and a European study suggests that one worker in 40 relies on the gig economy for the majority of their income.
Gig Watch researchers are developing a rating system for gig platforms in partnership with stakeholders including platform organisations, regulators, worker advocates, consumers, and workers. They encourage organisations interested in helping develop the system to get in touch.
“We want a cross-stakeholder group to tell us what they consider to be important rating criteria as well as which platform operators should be assessed. Understanding what each of the stakeholders values will make it a much more robust rating system,” says Associate Professor Kaine.