A new report from researchers at the University of Oxford's Oxford Internet Institute (OII), the University of Manchester, and the International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore, has shone a light on the plight of some 50 million gig economy workers across the world since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Fairwork Foundation has found that many workers are having to choose between holding on to their incomes and putting themselves at risk of contracting coronavirus.
The report, which looks at the responses of 120 platforms across 23 countries to the COVID-19 pandemic, assesses platforms against the methods they have used to protect their workers during this global health crisis.
While some ride-hailing companies like Bolt (South Africa) and Grab (Philippines) had put in place measures such as plastic barriers between drivers and passengers, only five platforms of the 120 examined had put in place measures to compensate workers for loss of income caused by reduced demand for their services: meaning that the vast majority of gig workers are left entirely unprotected should they fall ill.
On sick pay, there have been efforts by companies such as Uber Eats in the UK to offer compensation to ill workers, however based on an eight-hour working day, this is at best around two-thirds of what a worker would earn even at the UK national minimum wage.
The team has come up with a number of recommendations for policymakers and regulators, including:
- Rapid access to a minimum income (equivalent to at least the local living wage) for those unable to work due to fall-off in demand, to legislative restrictions, or pre-existing health vulnerabilities
- Additional hazard pay for those facing additional risks while working during the pandemic
- Regular, adequate, free provision of personal protective equipment, disinfectants, gloves and masks
- Extended sick pay for those workers hospitalised by Covid-19 infection
- Establishing an accessible communications channel for workers for all issues relating to Covid-19; adequately staffed for rapid resolution of issues
Professor Mark Graham, Professor of Internet Geography at Oxford Internet Institute, said, 'While governments across the world have torn up ideologies and rulebooks in response to COVID-19, a disappointingly high number of companies in the gig economy are prioritising shareholders, investors and customers above their own workforce.'
'By comparing the range of policy responses, we have been able to show that while meaningful protections for gig workers may not be widespread, they are possible. Our report highlights what best practice can look like. The task now is to find ways to pressure and regulate those that fall short.'