Digital labour platforms: A new form of work and business
In recent years, digital technologies have radically transformed and penetrated different sectors of the economy, shaking the traditional foundations of labour markets to the core. The information and communication technology revolution and the internet have set in motion a wave of new processes and products, spurring competition and productivity growth. This has led to the rise of digital labour platforms, a new way to organize work and business.
Since 2010, there has been a five-fold rise globally in the number of digital labour platforms that facilitate online work or directly engage workers to provide taxi and delivery services.
Platforms are agile and organize work in a fundamentally different way than traditional businesses. They connect businesses and clients to workers, and transform labour processes with major implications for the future of work.
What are the distinguishing features of the platform business model?
The rise of digital labour platforms has created both opportunities and challenges for traditional businesses. The ILO conducted interviews with representatives of 85 businesses across varied sectors, which provide insights into how digital labour platforms are changing and challenging traditional businesses.
Platforms engage two types of workers: the core workforce, directly hired by the platform, and workers whose work is mediated through these platforms and carried out as a “gig”.
Drawing on surveys conducted with 12,000 respondents, the ILO has compiled a first major comprehensive picture of workers on digital labour platforms in multiple sectors and countries.
Our research shows that they are typically below age 35, male and reside in urban or suburban areas. Over 60% on online web-based platforms are highly educated. Contrary to expectations, so are over 20% of app-based taxi drivers and delivery workers. This may reflect employment contexts, such as a lack of local employment opportunities that correspond to workers’ skill levels.
Most workers on online web-based platforms (86%) and delivery platforms (69%) expressed the desire to do more work. However, they are unable to get extra gigs because of excess labour supply and scarcity of tasks. In addition, many workers, especially those from developing countries, are excluded from accessing work and well-paid jobs due to restrictions imposed by the platform or client. This has serious negative impacts on workers’ autonomy, access to work and pay.