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The gig economy has grown by 28% UK-wide and by 72% in the transport and delivery sector in London since 2010, according to an analysis by the New Economics Foundation think tank.
The report says new platform companies that employ gig workers, including Uber and Deliveroo, have pioneered highly successful business models that harness the technology of mobile broadband, GPS and online payment to connect users and providers of a service.
However, it says they have warded off or absorbed competitors to create a monopoly. It states: “Rather than the blooming of a thousand flowers, as the digital economy was supposed to encourage, we have seen the emergence of extremely powerful tech giants whose business model is to achieve market dominance and then reap the rewards.”
The report says the platforms’ no-employment model mean gig workers have no protection from low pay and excessive hours and in some cases could face a disciplinary cut-off from platforms, which prevents them from earning at all.
It adds that the growth of firms like Uber are driving down wages. It highlights a recent survey showing nine out of 10 London private hire drivers, some working for Uber, some not, claimed that their take home pay had decreased over the last six months, with only one in five of them feeling they can earn enough through driving to support their families. The report states: “Flexibility is valuable to many of these workers, but flexibility and high working standards are not mutually exclusive.”
The report says that the gig economy is contributing to a rise in insecure working – its research shows only 61% of the labour force has a secure job that pays at least the living wage and it says this has been deteriorating for the past four years.
The report adds that the platform workforce is highly individualised. It states: “In a sector based on networked technologies it is ironic that there are very few ways for workers to communicate with one another.” That makes it difficult for gig workers to communicate freely with each other, without supervision, and to organise to protect their interests.
The report calls for new ownership models, for instance, Uber drivers owning their own apps so they could charge affordable rates, technology-enabled collective action and data portability to enable people to easily move their data and profile from one platform to another.