The platform economy is built upon new forms of work relationships created through apps and online platforms. This economy has opened up a whole new world of opportunities for those who were excluded from traditional labour markets. The internet is truly the great equalizer.
The inclusivity of the platform economy
Work and work relationships play a crucial role in redeeming people from social exclusion, offering a way for working people to feel that they are contributing to progress and playing a meaningful role in their interactions with others.
According to research by the Washington-based Pew Research Centre, using digital platforms to secure paid work has been particularly significant for American blacks and Latinos:
Not only are work opportunities expanded, but there are more opportunities to secure services such as hiring an Uber in places where there are no taxi firms. According to the Pew Research Centre:
These findings are highly relevant in evaluating the benefits of the platform economy.
But are these good opportunities?
For someone mourning the loss of a long-term job for life with a large firm that would offer secure pay and perks, the platform economy looks like a kick in the teeth: precarious work with no guarantee of income. But for someone staring down a long road of limited opportunities for advancement, the platform economy is the gateway to prosperity.
This is exactly the same debate as that which revolved around the McJob, concerning whether working at McDonalds was so ghastly that the whole place should be shut down so that nobody is 'forced' to work there. A job flipping burgers is not as attractive as being the CEO of Amazon, for sure, but it is probably better than being unemployed. According to the OED a McJob is
It's not really a 'no-hope' job if it provides the usual starting point from which people try to get established. Surely that makes it a 'great-hope' job in the sense that the McJobber has great hope concerning his future prospects once he leaves McDs and gets established? If you ask the OED to give you further example sentences, this is offered:
It's just a first step on the road to more exciting times ahead.
There are two important facts to remember here:
Similarly when people talk about precarious life on the platform economy, hard graft for uncertain income, they have forgotten a phenomenon known as growth, and the fact that platform-based enterprises do tend to grow over time. They may start out being precarious opportunities, but that is by no means the end of the affair.
How should we classify employment relationships?
The classification of workers into employed and self-employed revolves primarily around employment protection: guarantees in relation to wages, working hours, sick-pay, dismissal, etc. To put the matter simply, those classified as employees have a raft of legal protections and those who are self-employed do not.
Any situation where people are being classified, with some being protected and others not, is bound to cause problems. Regardless of where or how you draw the boundary lines, some people will be left out, and they will not be happy.
This is why the RSA's proposal to move away from fretting about classification and focus more on 'good gigs' is so refreshing. They argue that:
Conceptualizing good platform work
How should we evaluate the platform economy? The RSA argues that we should move beyond classification, and beyond the traditional notions of employment altogether, and simply think about the overall experience of working life:
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