Public Policy Manager, Economic Policy, Uber,
Head of Employment Unit, Eurofound,
Professor,Milan State University and Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, Co-founder, Open Evidence,
Professor of Labour Law, KU Leuven,
video and audio recordings
This event discussed the major aspects of “crowd employment” – employment facilitated by digital platforms. In particular, the participants addressed four issues: defining “crowd employment” and platform-related services, the role of regulations, impact on society and the lack of evidence for good policy-making.
The speakers carved out a common definition of crowd employment. Over the conversation, they highlighted four characteristics of the platform economy, where crowd employment takes place:
- The heterogeneity of the different services provided,
- The flexibility with which one can enter this labour market,
- The role of technology in enabling this economic activity,
- The presence of a third party –the platform– besides the employee and the employer
Of course, there is also the innovative use of digital technologies for matching buyers of labour to suppliers of labour. The panellists mentioned that the novelty of this digital business model did not necessarily require entirely new labour markets concepts. Platforms like Deliveroo can be perceived as pooling together individual contractors. Rather, the regulatory challenge would come from classifying the activities of these companies, given how many declinations the platform business model can have. Indeed, should Uber be considered as a tech company or as a transport company?
This brings us to the role of regulations in this context. One factor that currently determines whether an employer has social responsibilities is his degree of intervention in the employee’s performance. Here again, platforms are very heterogeneous. Some let contractors absolutely free, while others take on managerial, standard-setting or even disciplinary roles. Also relevant is the extent to which contractors rely on the platform as primary source of income, as this alters the bargaining power of each party. Finally, a critical determinant of the role of regulators is the impact these platforms have on employment and inequality.
The impact of crowd employment on society more generally is a key unknown. While the flexibility could be argued to generate benefits for the underemployed, the extent to which employment by platforms crowds out other form of employment remains uncertain. Likewise, platform could reduce inequality through the greater access to income and experience they provide to people from more precarious backgrounds. However, there is some preliminary evidence that these benefits are concentrated – a minority of contractors fulfils most of the jobs listed by platforms.
The speakers also discussed how this uncertainty is symptomatic of a lack of evidence. Indeed, all along the event, speakers found it difficult to determine the impact of platforms on society because they lacked the empirical data. There is therefore a need for better partnerships between the scientific community and the private sector. This also gave additional support to the idea of open source access to companies’ data.