Digit Debates: Mind the gap: Digital platforms and the future of social and employment protections

10 November 2021



Digital platforms have reshaped the working lives of millions and the consumption patterns of many more. Now, they are reaching into and rearranging the very architectures of states and labour market governance. Independent contractors have no legal recourse to the social and employment protections afforded to those in formal employment relationships. But increasingly, pressure from workers and unions — alongside the requirements of platforms themselves — is driving digital platforms to implement private protection packages for their self-employed contractors. From healthcare and minimum hourly rates, to health and safety and union recognition and collective bargaining agreements, platforms are stepping in to grant affordances previously guaranteed by public policy and legislation. What does this mean for the future of work and labour market governance? We draw on detailed evidence from a UK-based case study to examine these questions. 


Steve Rolf is a scholar working at the intersection of international business, human resource management and political economy. He contributes to the ESRC Digit centre as a Research Fellow, where he is responsible for examining the digital transformation of the global retail sector, with a particular focus on the growing role and significance of investments in logistics. 

Marc Meryon is a Partner and Head of Industrial Relations at Eversheds Sutherland. He is also an Honorary Senior Visiting Fellow at Cass Business School, City University. He was until 2015 the Senior Independent Director of King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust.Marc specialises in helping companies with difficult labour relations issues, often arising from organisational change. He frequently advises on managing and resolving collective disputes, including preventing and mitigating the impact of strikes and responding effectively to union backed corporate campaigns, both within the UK and internationally. 

Marc’s role includes helping employers with union negotiations; new models for staff engagement; managing stakeholder relations; and using innovative legal challenges to protect businesses from disruption. 

Marc also advises on the growing impact of human rights on business and labour relations, and on the increasing use of contingent workers in the gig economy. 

Related reading

Towards privatized social and employment protections in the platform economy? Evidence from the UK courier sector Steve Rolf, Jacqueline O’Reilly, Marc Meryon, 2022, Research policy.

Algorithmic management and app-work in the gig economy: A research agenda for employment relations and HRM, James Duggan, Ultan Sherman, Ronan Carbery and Anthony McDonnell, Human Resource Management Journal, August 2019, Volume 30, Pages 114-132

What Do Platforms Do? Understanding the Gig Economy, Steven Vallas and Juliet B. Schor, Annual Review of Sociology, Volume 46, April 2021, Pages 273-294.

“Are litigation and collective bargaining complements or substitutes for achieving gender equality? A study of the British Equal Pay Act” Simon Deakin, Sarah Fraser Butlin, Colm McLaughlin, Aleksandra Polanska, Cambridge Journal of Economics, Volume 39, Issue 2, March 2015, Pages 381–403.