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On the cloud: Work in the planetary labour market

While much of our attention in the Gig Economy Project is on platform workers who work on-location - delivering food, cleaning houses, picking-up passengers etc - there is a whole other section of platform work, one that is ultimately destined to be significantly larger and more integral to the global economy, if it is not already. 

That is those who do platform work remotely, on 'the cloud'. Cloudworkers can operate from anywhere in the world, as long as they have an internet connection. The majority of this global labour market is based in the global south, and they are usually working on platforms headquartered in and for clients based in the global north. There are two categories of cloudwork: the microworkers (also known as 'clickworkers' or 'crowdworkers') who complete very fast, basic tasks like identifying images, often with the purpose of training AI systems, and the more-skilled work of online freelancers, who carry out a range of tasks for clients that can all be done from home: transcription, translation, graphic design, secretarial work, writing, editing, and so forth.  

The last figure for the size of the cloudwork global workforce, at 163 million, is from 2020 and is likely to be a major under-estimation by now, for three reasons. First, global internet connectivity continues to grow: in 2020, 60% of the world population was online, now that figure is 64%. Second, the pandemic accelerated trends towards working via digital platforms and working from home. And third, the rapid growth of deployable uses for AI over the past year, most famously via ChatGPT, has all been based on an enormous, and largely hidden, microwork industry in countries like Kenya, as Miriam Oliver and Georgia Nelson wrote about for the Gig Economy Project in February.

The workers behind 'Artificial Intelligence' were highlighted in this year's Fairwork cloudwork ratings report, published in July. The report looks at the main microwork platforms - Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk), Clickworker, Appen, Microworkers and Scale AI - which are contracted by the biggest players in AI, including Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Nvidia. The report finds that "microwork platforms have some of the worst results", with the best being Appen with 3 out of 10 and the worst being MTurk and Microworkers with 0 out of 10. Fairwork surveyed 250 microworkers for these platforms, finding 26.85% of their time was spent on unpaid tasks and they earned an average of $2.15 an hour.

"It is important to stress that our pool of respondents for microwork platforms included 51 countries, and that currencies and costs vary significantly between these," the reports states. "Still, the findings shed light on the persistent problem of low pay on the platforms."

The online freelancer platforms were not much better. The largest in the world,, which reportedly has over 50 million workers registered on its platform from over 245 countries, scored zero out of 10. We have had a close look on to get an idea of how it works, and one can see immediately why it gets zero out of 10. New 'projects' appear constantly, and the worker have to place a 'bid' with a value they would be willing to do the work for. Here is an example of a project by a client from Kharagpur, India, who is entirely new to the platform, registering on 2 September and with no previous ratings:

'We are seeking a proficient article writer who is an expert in Indian Politics and Political Parties, with the ability to write in Hindi. Our goal is to collaborate with a writer who can create high-quality, well-researched, and engaging articles on topics related to Indian politics and various political parties in the country, all in Hindi.'

The bid price is set between ₹1,500.00 – 12,500.00 INR, which is 0.017 to 0.14 Euros. Within 20 minutes of the project's launch, there are 39 bids, the average being ₹5,244 INR (0.059 Euros). 

Now, there are a number of things to say about this: the project description is extremely vague about what exactly is being asked for. Yet if a worker gets accepted for the bid and ends up not fulfilling it because the demands are too great, they can be punished with a bad rating or even kicked-off the platform. The client has no track record on the platform which doesn't exactly reassure the worker that they will fulfil their part of the deal, but there is no obvious complaints procedure on the platform, neither can one be found in the terms & conditions. Not only are workers paid a pittance - forced to make ridiculously low bids to beat the competition - but the possibilities for wage theft are rife. Indeed, Fairwork finds that a third of its survey respondents across all cloudwork platforms completed a task that they were not remunerated for. 

If the quality of work is largely determined by the balance of class forces, then one should not be surprised by the appalling precariousness of cloudwork. The imbalance of power between the platform and the cloudworker is huge: there is an enormous over-supply of labour on these platforms due to the fact that workers can access them from almost anywhere. With too many workers chasing too few jobs, workers have almost no collective bargaining power. Add to this that the workers are entirely disconnected from one another, with the platforms providing no means for worker-to-worker communication, and it's easy to see why this is a workforce ripe for exploitation. 

Despite this, there are inspiring examples of cloudworkers finding ways to regularly communicate with each other. The 'Turkopticon' project developed an independent infrastructure for workers to rate the clients on Amazon Mechanical Turk. This gives some hope that cloudworkers could start to alter the power imbalance, but they really need support from governments, as cloudwork platforms are rigged against the worker.

However, don't hold your breath that pro-worker regulation will come quickly. is an Australian company, while most of its workers are from the world's poorest countries, so what incentive does the Australian government have to establish regulations on that would help workers elsewhere cut into the platform's profits? The same is also true for MTurk, owned by Amazon, and it's big US clients like Google and Nvidia. The dynamics of global labour arbitrage mean that corporate interests and nation-state interests are usually aligned when it comes to exploiting cheap labour in another part of the world.

That's why workers and trade unions in the global north have a special responsibility to pressure governments to regulate cloudwork platforms. This is important for the significant number of cloudworkers in the global north, but it would also be an act of solidarity with the far bigger cloudwork labour force in the global south, who have few means of their own to lobby in Brussels, Canberra or Washington.

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

Gig Economy news round-up

  • GLOVO OWNERS PREPARE FOR FINES UP TO €400 MILLION: Glovo's owners are preparing for the possibility that they will have to fork out up to €400 million to pay Spanish Government fines, as the crackdown on false self-employment intensifies. Delivery Hero, the German multinational, has stated in its half-year report that it was now setting aside more money, having previously prepared up to €258 million for 'legal risks' relating to the Catalan-headquartered firm. Despite the 'Riders Law' entering into force in August 2021, which requires food delivery platforms to employ their riders, 80% of Glovo's riders are still self-employed, with only those working in the grocery delivery section on employment contracts. Confirmed fines and back-dated social security contributions for false-self employment have already reached over €200 million, but that is for labour inspections relating to before the Riders Law entered into force. Inspections are currently ongoing for the period since the law was passed, and despite the fact Glovo tweaked its model at the time of the Riders Law, labour law experts say that Glovo is still not compliant. In July, the government announced that it would now be pursuing criminal charges against food delivery executives who refuse to employ their riders, opening up the possibility of prison sentences for Glovo's management. Delivery Hero bought Glovo for around €800 million after striking a deal on New Year's Eve 2021. Glovo made €300 million in operating losses in 2022. Read more here.
  • SLOVENIAN INFORMATION COMMISSIONER TELLS PLATFORMS THAT NUMBERING RIDERS IS ILLEGAL: Platforms must stop placing identification numbers on the bags of food delivery couriers in Slovenia, the country's Information Commissioner has ruled. The City of Ljublana had told Wolt and Glovo, the two main food delivery platforms in the country, to place the ID numbers so that authorities could identify riders who have committed road traffic offences. Ljublana is the only municipal authority in Europe to impose such a measure. But the Information Commissioner, Mojca Prelesnik, found that the ID numbers were a violation of personal data protection regulations, and that it must be first proved that there are no less invasive measures which could be introduced to identify breaches of road safety laws, such as the use of city wardens. Mladi Union plus, which represents riders, said it welcomed the Information Commissioner's decision. Wolt said the verdict of the Information Commissioner was not yet final, and the City of Ljublana called on the two platforms to appeal the decision in the administrative court. Read more here
  • ELITÉ TAXI BARCELONA SET FOR 'BIGGEST' MOBILISATION YET ON 5 SEPTEMBER: The Barcelona taxi union Elité Taxi's leader, Alberto 'Tito' Álvarez, has said that their mobilisation planned for 5 September will be "one of the biggest seen" in the Catalan capital. Elité Taxi are facing a potential fine of almost €123,000 from the Catalan Competition Authority (ACCO) for a "collective recommendation to boycott Uber and other operators". The union say ACCO's resolution "violates the fundamental rights and freedoms of taxi drivers" and are taking the case to court. Elité Taxi has been vociferous in its opposition to the "Uberisation" of Barcelona, and won a substantial victory last year when the Catalan parliament passed a law which effectively limited the private hire platforms to limousines and passenger vans. Initially, Álvarez responded to ACCO's ruling by announcing four days of strikes and blockades from 1-4 September, but plans have since been scaled down to a one-day action. Álvarez met the Catalan Government's new Minister of Territory, Ester Capella, on Wednesday [30 August], and said afterwards that the meeting "went very well" but that they would be going ahead with the slow march through the Catalan, capital, saying thousands of taxi drivers will "collapse the centre of Barcelona". Álvarez said they are also asking the Catalan Government for a commission of investigation into possible influence peddling at the ACCO. Read more here
  • UK DELIVEROO RIDER DE-ACTIVATED 2 DAYS AFTER ROAD ACCIDENT: Worker Info Exchange (WIX), the campaign group for workers' data rights, has said that they are helping a Deliveroo rider in the UK who was de-activated for failing to complete deliveries, just two days after being involved in a road traffic accident. WIX tweeted that the rider, who has completed over 10,000 deliveries having worked on and off for Deliveroo since 2016, "had raised concerns around Deliveroo’s expected delivery times on multiple occasions, after repeated messages from Deliveroo which stated they were taking too long to complete their deliveries." WIX added that they have obtained a list of 17 deliveries which "Deliveroo claim were incomplete", which all took place within one month, two days of which "the courier reported being involved in road traffic accidents." WIX said they had sought to access Deliveroo's expected delivery times as part of a Subject Access Request for the rider's data, but that the British-headquartered company that "this is not personal data and refused to share it". The campaign group confirmed that they will continue to help the rider to access their data and push Deliveroo to re-activate the rider's account. Read more here.
  • UK JUST EAT RIDER DEFENDS HIS BIKE IN VIOLENT ATTACK: A Just Eat rider in the UK bravely held on to his bike whilst being attacked with weapons by three people. The violent attack was streamed on Instagram, with the Daily Mirror reporting that it took place in Leicester. The footage shows the rider being hit to the ground by three people and struck with what appears to be pipes. They try to pull the bike away from the rider who holds on to it, before the attackers eventually run-off. Reports of violent attacks on food delivery couriers have been growing in recent months, with the IWGB union previously stating that not enough is done by platforms to ensure the health and safety of their riders. A Just Eat spokesperson said of the Instagram video: "We are deeply concerned to hear about this attack involving a courier and we are investigating." Read more here
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In GEP this week

Podcast – Marx, piece wages & the gig economy: Interview w/ Matt Cole

What relevance does Marx’s writings have to understanding the wage system in the gig economy today? The Gig Economy Project speaks to Dr Matt Cole to find out.
From around the web
Rights and dignity

Duygu Kaya, a Turkish former food delivery courier at the Gorillas Workers' Collective who campaigns for the right to strike, writes about the struggles of migrant workers in Germany, from Ford to Gorillas, in 'jungeWelt'. 

Podcast: Inside the Uber Files, one year later

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists look back on their Uber Files investigation last year. 
Australians may pay ‘tiny bit extra’ on pizza delivery as government announces new gig economy rules

Paul Karp reports in The Guardian on the Australian government's new loopholes bill, which contains reforms to the gig economy.

Upcoming events

- The second 'trilogue' meeting to negotiate the final text of the EU Platform Work Directive has been scheduled for 18 September.

- The WE-TRANSFORM project is hosting a conference in Turin, Italy on 'a policy agenda for workers transition in automated and digital transport services', 27-28 September. Click here for full details and to register. 

- WageIndicator is hosting an online conference on 'A Level Playing Field for Gig Workers', 27 October. Click here for full details and to register.

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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