LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Gig workers using some of Britain’s most popular labour platforms, including Amazon Flex and Uber Eats, often earn less than the minimum wage, researchers said on Tuesday, as they called for stronger protections.
Amazon’s courier arm and cab services Bolt and Ola came bottom in a University of Oxford study looking at how fairly 11 of the country’s best known platforms treat workers, with all three scoring zero points.
“The lack of stable income due to the highly variable nature of the demand for gig services and the lack of any formal employment protection means gig companies wield an exceptional amount of power over gig workers,” the study said.
The report comes amid a growing global debate on how to regulate workers’ rights in the gig economy, where people tend to work for one or more companies on a job-by-job basis.
In February, Britain’s Supreme Court decided a group of Uber drivers - who are currently treated as self-employed with minimal protections - were entitled to worker rights such as paid holidays - in a ruling with potentially wide ramifications.
About 2.8 million people in Britain - at least 4.4% of the population - worked in the gig economy in 2017, official data shows. The COVID-19 pandemic has likely boosted numbers as more people turn to online shopping and food delivery services.
In the first study of its kind by Fairwork, an international project run by the Oxford Internet Institute, companies were scored on five areas - pay, conditions, contracts, management and representation.
Helpling, a platform for cleaners, and courier service Stuart both scored one out of 10, followed by cab service Uber, food delivery spinoff Uber Eats and odd-jobs app TaskRabbit, each with two points.
“These platforms are using new technologies to carry out the age-old practice of worker exploitation,” said Frances 0’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, which was not involved in the study.
Helpling disputed the report’s assessment. It said cleaners were free to decide their own prices, which they set on average above the living wage, advocated for by campaign group Living Wage Foundation, of 10.85 pounds in London and 9.50 outside.
A spokesman for Amazon Flex said it offered people the chance to work flexibly, earning 13 to 15 pounds an hour to supplement other incomes.
Other companies contacted by the Thomson Reuters Foundation did not immediately respond.
Pedal Me, an e-cargo company, came top with eight points as it offers workers an employment contract, entitling them to many rights typically denied to platform workers, researchers said.
Just Eat came second with six points and Deliveroo took third place with five points.
Only Pedal Me and Just Eat could show that all workers were guaranteed to take home at least the minimum wage - 8.91 pounds ($12.59) for those aged 23 or over, the study found.
However, no company demonstrated that workers were assured the Living Wage Foundation’s higher living wage after costs.
What counts as working time is a contentious issue with gig workers saying they should be paid for waiting time and travel time between jobs.
A driver using the Uber, Bolt and Ola platforms told researchers he earned 30 pounds a day for 10- to 12-hour shifts during lockdown, with long waits between jobs.
The report said labour platforms’ classification of workers as “self-employed” also left many covering steep costs out of their wages. One Uber driver said weekly costs for things like vehicle rental, insurance and fuel could amount to 700 pounds.
($1 = 0.7080 pounds)
Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Katy Migiro. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit news.trust.org
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