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Women in the gig economy

The Digital Future Society has published a set of 10 essays titled 'Global perspectives on women, work and digital labour platforms' from 26 academics and experts, almost all of whom are part of the Gender and Gig Economy Working Group, a collective which meets once a month online to share reflections on the topic.

That the platform economy reflects and often exacerbates the gender dynamics in the wider economy is one of the consistent themes of these essays. The first essay breaks down key statistics from the ILO's global surveys of online labour platforms: female gig workers are much more likely to do microwork or cloudwork because it fits around their caring responsibilities at home. These women are effectively working two jobs, in (unpaid) care and gig work, with the latter often being done at anti-social hours, making them "invisible": "Thus, working through online labour platforms is not only further reinforcing women’s roles in social reproduction in new ways but also alienating women workers from social relations at work."

The next essay look at women's experiences of on-location platform work like ride-hailing and food delivery, which are typically male-dominated. In Buenos Aires, female riders earn 17% less per hour than their male counterparts. The main reason for this is that women are less likely to work at times of peak demand (in the evening and weekends) due to caring responsibilities and fears over safety. This disadvantage is exacerbated by the algorithm, which rewards riders which work more and at peak hours. 

Then there is women working in highly feminised parts of the platform economy, most typically platform care, platform cleaning and beauty work. Like offline domestic work, platform care tends to be very precarious and low-paid, with a disproportionate number of migrant workers. An essay on platform care in Spain looks at whether platforms can help professionalise the sector, as many of the CEOs of platform care start-up's claim is their mission statement. "Caution" is advocated in this respect; the platforms provide no support for training or accreditation, and "there is no increase in the actual numbers of carers employed as professional carers" (a legal category in Spain).

An essay on Indian beauty platform workers organising for better working conditions and social security highlights the challenges women gig workers face in organising due to platform surveillance and the isolated-form the work takes, exacerbated by "continual non-recognition of the state and platforms" as well as "miss-classification" as independent contractors rather than employees. This reflects typical problems of organising in the informal economy, yet the beauty platform workers protests, sit-in's and a strike, tactics developed in association with wider organising in the gig economy in India and based on the use of online groups for communication and solidarity, shows that it is possible to overcome barriers to worker resistance.

Another essay looks at the case of the 3F-Hilfr agreement in Denmark, the first collective agreement with a domestic work platform. The agreement, which allowed the workers to become employees (entitling them to full employee rights) after 100 hours of work, was met with much fan-fare, quite rightly, but "after almost two years, it was reported that only 36 workers had benefitted, owing to the platform workers being largely non-unionised and an apparent lack of mandate from workers’ organisations, which is attributed to the agreement being government (not worker) led," the authors write. The lesson there is surely that there is no shortcut to organising workers from the bottom-up.

Researchers at Fairwork take a look at platform care's operational models, finding problems related to the fact that many care platforms do not handle payment through the app. Workers face issues around non-payment, under-payment, uncertainty around the commission they have to pay to the platform, and unpaid working time due to the worker needing to spend time searching for work, messaging the client to try to come to an agreement on the terms of work, and generally keeping an active profile on the platform with clients and potential clients. "The amount of time they spent on the platforms equalled another job on its own, yet it was all unpaid," they find.

The other essays I have not mentioned for lack of space are all very useful contributions to what is a neglected area of research and, indeed, reporting. Certainly, the Gig Economy Project is acutely aware that most of our reporting has been focused on ride-hail and delivery work, primarily because these are the sectors where organising and resistance is visible to us and thus worker-organisers are relatively easy to access. But that is no excuse for not trying to dig a bit deeper into the highly-feminised platform sectors which are too often out of sight and thus out of mind. If any of our readers have suggestions or contacts which can help us improve our reporting in this area, feel free to contact us.

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

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Gig Economy news round-up

  • JUST EAT CEO CALLS FOR PLATFORM WORK DIRECTIVE 'TO GO MUCH FURTHER': The CEO of Europe's largest food delivery platform, Just Eat Takeaway, has said that the Platform Work Directive should be strengthened to ensure no derogation in member-states, tough enforcement rules, and a "low threshold" to activate the legal presumption of employment. Jitse Groen's letter, which was published in the FT, reinforces the position the union has taken publicly since 2020 in favour of employment status in the food delivery sector, a position that is at odds with the other platforms operating in the sector. The majority of Just Eat's riders are employees, although there has been some back-sliding on that policy in recent times, such as in France, and the riders are almost always hired via sub-contractors. Groen said that there was not currently a "level playing field" in the sector, with "some [platforms] shouldering more employee and societal costs than others". The intervention comes as amendments to the draft Platform Work Directive are being negotiated at the EU Council and EU Parliament, with moves in the Council pushing to weaken the draft Directive to the extent that the European Trade Union Confederation have argued it would be worse than the status quo. Read more here
  • UBER FACE GDPR INVESTIGATION IN FRANCE FOR PASSING DRIVER INFO TO OECD: Uber France may have breached GDPR rights when it passed driver information onto the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which conducted a survey with Uber funding to "develop policies" intended to help workers, the OECD told the participants. Four drivers have made a complaint to France's information commission (CNIL), with one driver explicitly stating that they did not consent to the passing of some of their personal data to the OECD. Maître Giusti, who is representing the drivers, believes there has been five breaches of GDPR in this case. The study was carried out in partnership with polling organisation IPSOS, which denied any wrongdoing, saying the data used in the survey belongs to Uber. Questions in the survey included whether or not the worker belonged to a union organisation. Read more here.
  • FRENCH LABOUR INSPECTORATE MUST INSPECT UBER, COURT FINDS: The INV union representing Uber drivers in France declared victory after a Parisian Administrative Court found on Wednesday [30 November] that France's Labour Inspectorate was required to investigate Uber for "concealed work". The French Government is a close ally of the platforms and strongly opposed to employment status in the gig economy, but Uber and Deliveroo have lost recent court cases in France over the question of employment status, leading the INV union to demand that the Labour Inspectorate conducts an official investigation into the US ridehail giant. The Minister of Labour refused to do so, but the judge ruled that the Minister had "erred in law by refusing to carry out the inspection" and gave the Labour Inspectorate four months to carry it out. The government is yet to say whether it will appeal the verdict or not. Ben Ali Brahim, leader of the INV union, described the verdict as "a victory against Uber and the state". Read more here.
  • ATTEMPT TO USE GIG WORKERS AS POSTAL WORK STRIKE BREAKERS FOILED: Royal Mail, the privatised postal service company in the UK, attempted to use gig workers hired by the sub-contractor Ryde as scab labour to undermine a CWU union strike on Thursday and Friday, but the plan was foiled by the union, who got people to sign-up for Ryde under false pretences. The CWU posted a tweet on Tuesday [29 November] stating: "Royal Mail Group are using ‘Ryde’ app to recruit couriers to break the strikes tomorrow and Thursday. Do you think now is a good time to reveal we have hundreds of people signed up for shifts tomorrow and none of them will be turning up?" The IWGB union, which represents couriers, tweeted in solidarity with the CWU strike and criticised Ryde for trying to recruit "gig workers to cross picket lines and push down pay and conditions for drivers across the industry". Read more here.
  • RIDERS STRIKE IN BARCELONA: Riders in the CGT union, a group representing Pakistani riders and the group 'Gloveros en Lucha' took co-ordinated strike action in Barcelona on Thursday [1 December] to demand an increase in pay rates amid the cost of living crisis. The strike was timed to coincide with the Spanish World Cup match against Japan, when demand for Glovo is likely to peak. A demonstration was held in Plaza Cataluña followed by a march. Pictures on social media show orders piling up at two restaurants. The CGT, an anarcho-syndicalist union, said ahead of the strike that the Rider Law, introduced by the Spanish Government last year to create a presumption of employment in the sector, had proved to be "insufficient" because "digital companies continue to use the false self-employed model". Read more here.

On GEP this week


Union leaders and campaigners for gig workers’ rights say attempt to introduce collective agreements as a substitute for legal provisions in the EU Directive demonstrates how bad agreements can be used by platforms to undermine workers’ rights.
From around the web
At the age of 43 I infiltrated Glovo: "They survive thanks to a pyramidal structure"

Rául García Aguado, a member of the CCOO union in Spain, worked for Glovo to find out about how the company worked. 'El Confidencial' spoke to him about what he found out (in Spanish).
“The delivery service seems to be exploiting this in a targeted manner”

Interview in 'junge Welt' with Johannes Kristensen, ex Flink rider and member of the FAU union in Dresden, about his lawsuit against unfair dismissal and worker organising in Flink. 
Tokyo recognises Uber Eats workers' collective bargaining right

Report in 'The Japan Times' about Tokyo recognising Uber Eats couriers as employees and ordering the company to hold collective bargaining negotiations with the workers' union.

Upcoming events

- Rosa Luxemburg-Stiftung and the Kritisches China-Forum are hosting an online event on 'Rider resistance in China and Germany' on December 10. For full details on how to register, click here.

-The Platform Labor Project and the Global Digital Cultures Initiative are holding a hybrid international conference on 'Global Perspectives on platforms, labour and social re-production', at the University of Amsterdam, 27-28 June 2023. Details here

Know of upcoming events we should be highlighting? Let us know at

Get Involved

The Gig Economy Project is a media network for gig workers and we welcome contributions from workers, writers, academics, activists - anyone who wants to stand up for workers' rights in the gig economy.

If you would like to write for the site, discuss arranging an interview with GEP, or simply have information about developments in the gig economy in Europe you think we should be aware of, get in touch. 

Contact project co-ordinator Ben Wray at or send a direct message to the Twitter: @project_gig.

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