How platform work becomes sustainable

Getting food delivered and booking an Uber for a spontaneous ride – thanks to digital technology, there are more and more options for location-independent services. They work via a platform and workers are paid per use, the gig. Is this exploitation or an opportunity? What is the impact of gig work on the labour market and workers? A study by BFH Wirtschaft, the University of Bern and the Syndicom trade unionexamines these questions .An interview with Prof. Dr Caroline Straub. You are investigating platform-based work in Switzerland. What are the aims of this study?

Prof. Dr. Caroline Straub from the Institute New Work.

In Switzerland, there are a large number of activities that are mediated and carried out via digital work platforms, and supply and demand are increasing every year. With the aim of contributing to a sustainable development of the digitalisation of the Swiss labour market and formulating recommendations for decision-makers, we want to better understand platform work over the next four years with a team of occupational psychologists from the University of Bern and business economists from the Bern University of Applied Sciences.

The logistics sector is strongly affected. What dangers do those working in new forms of employment see – and what effects do they see as beneficial?

Logistics companies in Switzerland are increasingly using artificial intelligence to optimise same-day delivery, for example. Employees are increasingly involved in algorithmic management – i.e. management by artificial intelligence, often depending on customer ratings. Our interviews with delivery service employees of e.g., Smood, Coople, Uber Eats and Notime have shown that dealing with algorithms is perceived as unsatisfactory especially when decisions are perceived as unfair or arbitrary and employees have no possibilities to question them. Another negative aspect mentioned was the employment conditions. Some platforms do not pay employees according to working hours, but according to the number of assignments completed. However, it also became apparent that students or people who pursue other projects on the side appreciate the time flexibility of platform work. In addition, the example of Notime shows that the development of a collective labour agreement is also possible in this sector and can lead to an improvement in working conditions.

What can regulated platforms do for the further development of forms of employment?

Our interviews show that the need for self-determined work or individual influence on the content, place and time of work is very great for many people and that uncertainties and risks are gladly accepted for this. The appeal of platform-based work will certainly increase in the future, especially if the financial and social risks that currently exist in some cases can be reduced. Moreover, we see that some Swiss platforms are already in the process of offering their workers a good environment to acquire new skills and competences and thus develop professionally.

“The attraction of platform-based work will increase in the future.”

Interview participants report positively that platform work strengthens their self-esteem, offers them the opportunity to break out of unsatisfactory permanent positions, to try out and learn new things, and encourages them to take the step into traditional self-employment.

The EU Commission recently presented a directive on determining the employment status of platform workers. Why is Switzerland lagging behind?

The EU criteria are the result of a long-standing legal and political policy debate. These criteria focus on clarifying the legal framework of platform-based work. The EU assumes that platform-based workers are employees if the platform “controls” the performance of their work. Five criteria have been developed, of which at least two must be met. These are control or supervision exercised by a platform over prices, appearance or behaviour, quality of work, working hours and the ability to work for other clients. It may be that in the long run such regulation will make the payment and protection of workers fairer. Why Switzerland does not yet follow this approach, we do not know. However, in conversations with platform operators, we could already see a slight trend towards more protection and higher wages on Swiss platforms. The platform market is highly competitive due to many international providers. Platforms should therefore rather promote skilled workers and offer quality than primarily rely on dumping prices.

About the research project

Prof. Dr. Caroline Straub and her team from the Institute New Work at BFH Wirtschaft are researching the still young phenomenon of platform work in German-speaking countries in order to better understand the opportunities and risks of these new forms of work for employees and companies. The research project is a longitudinal study funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation as part of the National Research Programme 77 on Digital Transformation. Partners are the University of Bern, Coople and the Syndicom trade union.

Further information on the project can be found here.

This interview was previously published in Syndicom Magazine No. 27.

Creative Commons Licence

AUTHOR: Robin Moret

Robin Moret is editor of the Syndicom Magazine of the Syndicom union.

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