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Commoditized workers. Case study research on labor law issues arising from a set of ‘on-demand/gig economy’ platforms

In the framework of the so-called “sharing economy”, the number of on-demand companies matching labour supply and demand is on the rise. These schemes may enlarge opportunities for people willing to find a job or to top up their salaries. Despite the upsides of creating new peer marketplaces, these platforms may also be used to circumvent employment regulation, by operating informally in traditionally regulated markets. Productivity may be fostered but, at the same time, a new version of Taylorism is disseminated (i.e. the fragmentation of labour into hyper-temporary jobs – they call them microtasks – on a virtual assembly line), strengthened by globalisation and computerisation. All these intermediaries recruit freelance or casual workers (these continue to be independent contractors even though many indicators seem to reveal a disguised employment relationship). Uncertainty and insecurity are the price for extreme flexibility. A noteworthy volume of business risk is shifted to workers, and potential costs as benefits or unemployment insurance are avoided. Minimum wages are often far from being reached. This paper will present a case study analysis of several “on-demand work” platforms. I highlight downsides and upsides of work in these platforms by studying terms of service or participation agreements to which both parties have to agree. I look into several key features such as (i) means of exchange/commodities, (ii) systems of payment, (iii) demographics, (iv) legal issues concerning status and statutory protection of workers, indicators of subordination, treatment of sickness, benefits and overtime, potential dispute resolution, and deprived “moral valence of work” and I discuss potential strategies to address these issues.


Citation: Published by: Comparative Labor Law & Policy Journal, Vol. 37, No. 3