A recent report from the Fairwork Foundation, an action-research project based at the Oxford Internet Institute, rated eleven of the UK’s most popular digital labour platforms according to how fairly they treat workers. Only two achieved more than five points out of ten.
Platforms were assessed on the basis of five criteria known as the ‘Fairwork principles’, namely: fair pay, fair working conditions, fair contracts, fair management, and fair representation. Pedal Me, a cycle logistics company, comes first in the ranking with a score of eight, followed by the food delivery service Just Eats reaching six points out of ten. The study points that other companies fail to ensure many minimum standards of fair work, such as allowing workers to earn below the national minimum wage. At the other end of the ranking, Amazon Flex, Bolt and Ola failed to score any points as they were unable to provide evidence to meet any Fairwork principle. According to Alessio Bertolini, one of the author of the report, ‘these results shows that fair work is possible in the UK […], but what we find is that a majority of platforms are some distance from basic acceptable labour standards’. He adds that such ranking ‘provides a helpful guide for customers who use these platforms and the businesses that work with them’.
The General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress, Frances O’Grady, stressed that this report revealed that household names in the gig economy ‘are using new technologies to carry out the age-old practice of worker exploitation’. But there is hope that the gig economy’s exploitative model is nearing the end of the road in the UK, as the Supreme Court recently ordered Uber to give its riders the same basic rights as every worker. Uber drivers are not self-employed anymore and are therefore entitled to a minimum wage and working time protections. ‘Other gig employers must follow suit, unions won’t rest until pay and conditions have improved for gig workers’, said Frances O’Grady.
The research team is also launching the ‘Fairwork Pledge’, another initiative to make platforms accountable for their practices. Signatories include any businesses, universities, local government or administrations willing to help translate Fairwork scores into action. Organizations signing up as ‘official Fairwork Supporters’ must demonstrate their support for fairer platform work publicly and provide their staff with appropriate resources to make informed decisions, while organizations engaging as ‘Fairwork Partners’ make a public commitment to implement changes in their own employment practices. Either way, the pledge aims to encourage other organizations to support best labour practices through the five principles of fair work.