Gig econ­omy jobs ‘caus­ing long hours, low wages and iso­la­tion’

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Business - By Tim Wal­lace

TENS of mil­lions of work­ers around the world en­dure crip­plingly long hours in “gig” jobs, suf­fer­ing ex­haus­tion, sleep de­pri­va­tion and so­cial iso­la­tion in ex­change for low wages.

Even the best work­ers strug­gle to raise their wage rate be­cause of in­tense com­pe­ti­tion. As a re­sult they have to put in longer hours at anti-so­cial times to im­prove earn­ings, lead­ing to 18-hour days and weeks of 70 hours or more, a Univer­sity of Ox­ford study has found. As many as 70m peo­ple, of­ten in sub- Sa­ha­ran Africa and south-east Asia, find work through the gig web­sites. Th­ese match western em­ploy­ers with ed­u­cated work­ers at a low price.

It means im­por­tant but of­ten repet­i­tive tasks can be car­ried out ef­fi­ciently, with qual­ity as­sured by em­ployer satis- fac­tion rank­ings.

“Re­mote gig work could be highly in­tense. For in­stance, 54pc of our re­spon­dents said they had to work at very high speed, 60pc worked to tight dead­lines and 22pc ex­pe­ri­enced pain as a re­sult of their work,” the re­port stated. “For the av­er­age per­son it is well paid com­pared to what is avail­able lo­cally,” said Alex Wood, the aca­demic who con­ducted the re­search at the Ox­ford In­ter­net In­sti­tute. “But they find they have a very com­pet­i­tive sys­tem where work­ers are all bid­ding and can see each oth­ers’ bids.

“Even if they are suc­cess­ful they can­not in­crease the hourly rate very much. So they have to work long hours to make a good liv­ing.”

Work­ers praised the au­ton­omy that such jobs pro­vide, when ques­tioned in the study, as each can pick and choose the jobs they take.

But Dr Wood’s sur­vey of sev­eral hun­dred work­ers also found re­ports of pain and sleep de­pri­va­tion from the tasks. Dr Wood said one so­lu­tion could be for reg­u­la­tions to be brought in to gov­ern the way em­ploy­ers in the rich world use gig work­ers.

“It would be most ef­fec­tive to have reg­u­la­tion in the buyer coun­tries, as most work goes to clients in the US, UK, Canada and Aus­tralia. Hav­ing reg­u­la­tions in a few coun­tries can im­prove work­ing con­di­tions for a large num­ber of peo­ple,” he said.

“Part of the prob­lem is that if you are based in the UK you are not go­ing to know what is a rea­son­able amount to pay some­body [as the em­ployer will not know what a ‘liv­ing wage’ is in a coun­try such as Kenya].”

“Also peo­ple are not aware of the power dy­nam­ics – if you give some­one a bad rat­ing they might not be able to get a fu­ture job, so they are go­ing to be in fear of do­ing a good job,” said Dr Wood, adding that in some cases gig work­ers will give com­plain­ing clients their work for free, to avoid a bad rat­ing which would limit their fu­ture em­ploy­a­bil­ity.

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