Measuring the size, characteristics and consequences of digital work

Verdin, R. and O'Reilly, J. (2022), Digit Working Paper No. 1

Abstract

This working paper provides a summary assessment of the existing literature and data on digital forms of employment internationally. It illustrates the variability in how it is defined, how it is growing and what kind of risks are associated with these developments.

Evaluation of these types of jobs is divided. On one hand, optimists point to the attractions and relative ease in finding employment on digital platforms; on the other hand, more critical perspectives argue that these employment contracts can result in exclusion from social protection systems.

The evidence indicates that while overall a relatively small proportion of all employment digital work is growing, both on platforms as well as adoption amongst more traditional companies.

The characteristics of digital workers can vary by region and occupation. Overall, they tend to be predominantly younger and more likely male, with a growing number of women albeit in particular occupations. Skills and earnings levels vary but the key issues of disputes are around pay, conditions and employment status.

The consequences of this form of work for those with lower skilled digital employment can undermine their social citizenship: they lack comparable employment rights, or when unemployed entitlement to adequate social protection. The potential polarisation effects of digital exclusion and deficits will severely hamper the wider benefits of transparency offered by these technologies. During the pandemic these trends have become more apparent.

The imbalance of bargaining power and regulatory governance to bridge gaps in citizenship entitlements undermines the collective potential of policy makers and trade unions to address these challenges. Nevertheless, there is emerging evidence of innovative challenges and contestation of these gaps by both union organisations and national regulators attempts to adapt social protection.

Citation

Verdin, R. and O’Reilly, J. (2022) ‘Measuring the size of the digital workforce’, Digit Working Papers No. 1, University of Sussex, Falmer. Available at: https://dx.doi.org/10.20919/WHFQ8202.

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