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The gig economy "beyond the gig"

Gig workers, obviously, are not just workers. They also experience life in many other ways which shape how and why they do gig work: as tenants, parents, students, migrants, debtors, and so on and so forth. Indeed, one of the characteristics of gig workers is they often do not define themselves by their job, as they see it as something temporary, a stepping stone to somewhere else they want to get to.

Given this, to what extent is it important to look 'beyond the gig' if we want to understand the gig economy? Very, argue academics Niels Van Doorn and Aaron Shapiro, in a new paper titled "Studying the gig economy ‘beyond the gig’: A research agenda". They find that analysis limited to "the point of production", while essential, restricts our understanding of how the gig economy is reproduced, both from the point of view of the gig worker and of the platform.

"We need more nuanced and expansive answers to the question of why, despite the widely identified labour degradation and precarity of gig work, so many people nevertheless can and do log in each day," the authors' state. What other questions can help us find these answers?

First, they point to the role of finance, for instance through the proliferation of 'buy now, pay later' debt schemes and the emergence of in-app 'embedded finance' at Uber and Didi, as factors which "will influence their gig-related decisions and level of app dependency". Second, housing, as both a social necessity and a financial asset, is a major factor in levels of precariousness, with migrant workers particularly vulnerable to the predatory practices of landlords.

Next, how do "social infrastructures" affect gig work? Van Doorn and Shapiro find that gendered domestic relations, especially unpaid care, is an under-studied influence on why "differently positioned household members and platforms seek each other out in order to survive and get ahead". Equally, broader social relationships, such as kin networks and neighbours, act as an informal economy of "reciprocity and solidarity" for gig workers surviving on the margins, as well as "mutual aid" in the context of theft and violence.

From the perspective of platforms, there is a need to interrogate "how and why a business model with such poor unit economics has nevertheless continued to survive, beyond the basic fact that platform firms have had ample access to capital".

For instance, venture capital is a "foundational resource of platform power" which "not just enables but also shapes the business models and operations of gig platforms", but academic research "tends to treat finance as a 'background condition'". Similarly, platforms' rely on specific legal regimes for their proprietary data extraction and algorithmic management, which are "frequently taken for granted in the gig economy literature".

The authors' conclude by arguing that all of this has significant implications for the 'what is to be done?' question. By "following the money and the worker", they argue, we can end up looking at a much broader range of regulatory solutions to tackle the precarity of platform work than only those pertaining to employment law. This extends from using corporate, contract and trade secrets law to "[curtail] platform companies’ legal entrepreneurship" to making "migration regimes less restrictive, punitive, and exploitative".

Van Doorn and Shapiro's appeal to broaden the scope of platform work research has got us thinking about how narrowness of focus can also be an issue in journalistic reporting on the gig economy. Gig economy reporting tends to be siloed between financial reporting (The FT, Bloomberg etc), tech reporting (Wired, TechCrunch, etc) and finally (sporadic) reporting of the difficulties gig workers are facing (e.g. The Guardian), and rarely (with honourable exceptions) do the three types of reporting meet.

For example, as we pointed out at the time, the Uber Files would have been eminently more powerful if it put Uber's ethical and legal breaches in the context of the company's 'growth-before-profits' business model. It's this model which underpinned the company's aggressive, illegal behaviour when entering the European market.

Because this analysis was lacking (The Guardian never once mentioned in all its reporting of the scandal that Uber had burned through over $30 billion without ever turning a profit), it gave space for French President Emmanuel Macron to dismiss the allegations against him on the basis that Uber's illegal entry into the French market "created thousands of jobs", and so the means justified the ends. In reality, Uber's 'job creation' has come at the expense of more secure taxi jobs.

Of course, one could endlessly broaden the lens to the point where the strings attaching it to gig work get lost, but there is clearly a need - as with all quality reporting - to place things in their proper context and identify factors which may not be immediately obvious but are nonetheless critical. Journalists reporting on the gig economy should be attentive to, at minimum, industrial relations, finance, tech, the legal-regulatory environment and the broader socio-political environment facing gig workers, especially migration laws and patterns.

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

Gig Economy news round-up

  • SPANISH LABOUR INSPECTORATE OPENS NEW GLOVO DATA PRIVACY INVESTIGATION: Spanish minister of Labour, Yolanda Díaz, announced on Tuesday [17 October] that the Labour Inspectorate was opening a new investigation into Glovo for alleged “violation of the right to privacy of its workers.” Glovo is Spain's largest food delivery platform and already faces multiple investigations for false self-employment, but a new front has now been opened in the battle between the company and the government over data privacy. The investigation follows the publication of a European Trade Union Institute report last week which found that Glovo breaks numerous data protection laws in relation to the data it collects on its riders in Italy, which includes data collection when they are not using the app. The Italian Data Protection Authority found after a 2021 investigation, which included collaboration with the Spanish data authority, that Glovo broke seven GDPR rights of its riders. Details of the Spanish investigation have not yet been revealed. Díaz' department is also preparing a criminal prosecution against Glovo for fake self-employment, which is expected to be launched this month. Click here to read more. 
  • GLOVO AND DELIVEROO RIDERS STRIKE IN MILAN: Glovo and Deliveroo riders took strike action on Monday [16 October] in Milan to demand a minimum salary. The strike, organised by the CGIL union with the support of the Deliverance Milano collective, saw a bicycle marhc through the centre of the city with a banner reading "riders must eat too, we don't deliver for starvation wages". A strike organised by south-east Asian riders took place in September, also motivated by a fall in the payment per delivery. This strike came from the initiative of Pakistani and Afghan riders. "We support the autonomous push of the riders and we are helping them to structure their claims according to the organisational methods most suited to our category," Andrea Bacchin from the CGIL union said. Also in Milan, the Labour section of the Milan Court found that Deliveroo and Uber Eats, which has exited the Italian market, will have to pay social security and pension contributions, in two separate findings, one relating to 2016-2020 and the other 2020-21. A source told 'Ansa' that the total cost, which has not yet been calculated, could run into several tens of millions.  Read more here
  • RIDEHAIL DRIVERS STRIKE FOR PALESTINE IN THE UK: The App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) organised a "mass log off" on Saturday [21 October] in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. Israel has been bombarding the Palestinian enclave for two weeks, with Gazans denied access to food, fuel, water and electricity, in response to the Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October, which killed over 1,300 Israelis. The death toll in Gaza is now over 4,000 and the UN has warned of a potential "genocide". The ADCU issued a statement last week in solidarity with the Palestinians, in line with a motion passed at their AGM last year calling for "an end to the occupation and an end to apartheid". The mass log-off, from 12-2pm on Saturday, coincided with a national demonstration against the Israeli siege on Gaza in London. The ADCU asked customers not to use the ridehail platforms during those hours and told the ridehail platforms that they should not dispatch work within those hours. Click here to read more.
  • BARCELONA STUART DELIVERY RIDERS WIN HOLIDAY BONUS PAYMENTS: Grassroots union CGT Riders claimed victory on Wednesday [18 October] after Stuart Delivery began to pay holiday bonus payments which had not been received since last year. The holiday bonus is €30, and an extra €10 on a Sunday, and has been applied to the September 2023 payslip. The holiday bonus will rise to €40 in 2025. The agreement was negotiated through the Stuart Delivery Works' Council, which CGT Riders has majority representation within. The holiday period in Spain runs over August to September. "An improvement in the material conditions of workers in a precarious sector such as the rider sector," CGT Riders tweeted about the news. "That is what the action of combative unionism consists of." Click here to read more.
  • SPANISH LABOUR INSPECTORATE HAS REGULARISED 30,000 FALSE SELF-EMPLOYED WORKERS IN 2023: Spain's Labour Inspectorate has released new data on its action to clamp down on fake self-employment, with the food delivery sector being the top culprit. The data shows that €324 million has been collected since 2020 in fines and back-dated social security contributions, with 88,074 bogus-self employed workers regularised in that time. In 2023, 29,899 workers have been regularised, slightly down from the 2022 figure of 38,779. While not all of these workers are in the gig economy, from 2019 to 2022 more than half were from 'transport and storage', with the next largest sector, wholesale and retail trade, representing just 12.8%. The figures come in the context of the Spanish Government's battle with food delivery platforms Glovo and Uber Eats over the employment status of their riders. The Spanish Government's 'Rider Law' in 2021 required platforms to hire their food delivery couriers, following a Supreme Court verdict the year before, but Glovo and Uber Eats continue to defy the law, with Glovo racking up well over €200 million in fines and counting. In March of this year, Labour Minister Yolanda Díaz increased the powers of the Labour Inspectorate to impose fines faster on platforms which had been using the courts as a delaying tactic. Click here to read more.
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In GEP this week

‘Suppressing democracy’: Flink closes in Freiburg on eve of Works Council election

German Q-Commerce platform Flink claims it has shutdown its operations in Freiburg for “purely” economic reasons, but its sacked workers disagree.
Deliverance Milano: The “union-on-demand” for riders

As riders’ strike in Milan this week, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator Ben Wray finds that Deliverance Milano, a grassroots collective launched eight years ago, remains in the thick of the struggle.
From around the web
Argentina’s gig workers are rallying against regulation — and supporting the libertarian candidate

Some riders are backing far-right presidential candidate Javier Milei in today's Argentinean election, Lucía Cholakian Herrera and Facundo Iglesia find in 'Rest of World'.

Getir bets big on the US even as it bleeds cash

Turkish grocery delivery platform Getir faces multiple problems at once, Erin Wong reports in 'Rest of World'. 
How Gig Work Exploits Instead of Empowers Women in the Global South

Irene Mwendwa, Bonnita Nyamwire and Sally Roever write in the Stanford Social Innovation Review on the problems women face as gig workers in the global south. 

Upcoming events

- The European Trade Union Institute is holding a webinar on 'Algorithmic Management: The experience of reverse engineering techniques in seeing behind AI', based on a report published last week, on 23 October, 2-3pm CET. 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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