The future of gig working?

Albert Cañigueral talks to about attempts to organise to improve gig workers’ rights.

close up of someone typing on a laptop


What will the future hold for work in a world of digital platforms and automation? One person who is plotting changing trends in the world of gig working is Albert Cañigueral, a multimedia engineer and Spanish Language Connector of OuiShare, an open global community of entrepreneurs, designers, makers, researchers and citizens working to accelerate the shift toward a more collaborative economy.

He says work is changing so fast that it is hard for researchers to keep up to date with labour trends, for instance, which countries or regions have more gig workers. Many employment statistics are not keeping pace with reality, he says, and are still based on 20th century ways of working.

He notes, however, that those places where unemployment is high, particularly outside the main cities, tend to have higher levels of platform workers.

The mismatch between official figures and what is really happening means that policy is not fit for the new ways of working, says Albert. That includes everything from maternity payments to getting a loan to pay for a mortgage.

Albert is researching the way gig workers are developing their own support networks, including on employment rights, welfare issues, technical support, pensions and career development. He recently wrote an article on this for the Royal Society of Arts. He says gig workers tend to be more organised where they are physically present in the same space, for instance, a co-working space. That makes it easier for them to join forces to press for improved labour conditions. For that and other reasons, he sees the demand for co-working spaces likely to increase.

In terms of enforcing labour rights, Albert says that, while some more remote gig workers see each other as competition, others are organising locally or regionally through Facebook or whatsapp groups. Research from the Oxford Internet Institute suggests it is better to focus efforts to improve the quality of work and to tackle rights issues for international gig workers by focusing on national laws where the demand for work is coming from rather than where the people commissioning individual pieces of work are located. Some platforms offer some form of regulation, for instance, guaranteeing payment or minimum rates of pay. Freelancers platform Malt, for example, guarantees payment within 48 hours of delivering work.

Ultimately, however, Albert thinks more transnational regulations will be needed, given the nature of gig work is often international.

Rebundling rights

He says individual workers are weak when it comes to fighting for their rights and he feels there will be more and more organisations offering support and more and more policies at a local level to promote co-working spaces. He says he expects to see more niche co-working spaces, for instance, co-working spaces that attract gig workers working in arts and design.

He also anticipates more collective action on areas like long-term savings, well being and pensions, with governments having an interest in this. He cites the French site WeMind which covers health, housing and insurance.

Reputation and data protection will also become increasingly important as gig workers need to be able to transfer their reputation from one platform to another rather than start from scratch every time. At the moment some platforms don’t allow people to export their reputation or any microcredentials they may earn on the site as they seek to develop their skills.

While there are now several different organisations developing protections in particular areas like health and well being, Albert anticipates that they will eventually join up with organisations offering more comprehensive protection to gig workers. “Labour has become unbundled in the gig economy so workers’ different needs need to be addressed individually, but they could rebundle again,” he says.

There are signs of this already. For instance, Nomo in Spain describes itself as a bank for freelancers, offering financial support as well as insurance advice.

Albert is also keen to track the development of best practice in gig platforms and says the UK has been an inspiration. He cites Bethnal Green Ventures, a collective which invests in tech ventures and aims to promote tech for good, and also Matthew Taylor’s report on Modern Working Practices which forms the basis of the Government’s Good Work Plan. Albert says the report is important because it provides a vision on how to achieve good quality gig working.


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