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