Regulators

Regulatory bodies, lawmakers, and law enforcers at state, regional, local, and transnational levels need to be actively engaged in shaping platform work. However, the emerging and rapidly changing nature of this form of labour competes with the slower capacity of legal and policy change. The transnational context of platform work and the range of bodies that are involved also render coherent and stable policy and legal frameworks difficult to achieve. Policies include labour regulation but also occupational health and safety, gender and equality, as well as platform regulation at a technical and business level. This might involve state or regional economic or infrastructure policies supporting or hindering platform companies and the labour of the workforce.

Labour and employment laws, lawmakers, and advisory bodies

Issues

Labour law ecosystem: Identifying the applicable policy, regulatory, or legislative actor is a key challenge. There is a great variety of EU, national, and regional bodies involved in developing, implementing, and policing labour regulations around platform work. These bodies also interact in complex ways, adding further complexity in understanding and reshaping platform regulatory environments. Workers and platforms may also straddle international jurisdictions, rendering application and policing more complex.

Some nations do not have effective regulatory frameworks in place and/or lack enforcement capacity.

Employment status: Workers in the platform economy are often not covered by labour laws due to their formal status as self-employed contractors. Some people earning income from platforms, such as platform traders, are not covered by the proposed EU legislation. Employment forms can vary across jurisdictions.

Labour courts: Courts play an important role in defining the legal status of platform workers. The jurisdiction of courts and case law may be limited though. Judgements of courts of lower instances may only apply to specific cases and not be legally binding for other, similar cases.

Occupational health and safety (OHS): Platform work often happens in atypical work environments, such as in domestic spaces, and in conditions of formal self-employment. OHS legislation and policy is difficult to apply in these contexts and even more difficult to police. The risks and management of workplace safety are typically borne by workers rather than platform companies or clients.

In some contexts, OHS rules may be implemented by a platform in ways that discriminate against women or otherwise marginalised workers and result in wage discrimination.

Diverse workers: Legal and policy contexts may not adequately reflect or support the labour of women and other minoritised workers. This is not least as gendered forms of work are often less visible in the platform work landscape meaning policy development may not be informed by the full range of labour experiences. The universalised labouring subject around whom much policy is built is by default white, male, cis, het, and able-bodied. While more attention is being given to diversity in the workforce among labour policy making and lobby groups, how to capture and respond to the diversity of labour experiences and articulate these in a single national or supra-national policy remains a key challenge.

Taxation: The transnational status of many platform companies, and the capacity for worker, client, and platform to be in different jurisdictions, makes national taxation policies difficult to enforce.

Needs

Updated definition of worker to ensure rights and protections are extended to all platform workers; harmonising of legislative environments globally (or at least within the EU); more data needed from a range of stakeholders to inform policy, for example about different types of workers, the nature of work being performed, the level of satisfaction with the platforms, worker productivity, retention, business models, platform effectiveness, new tools for communication and collaboration, and impact on society; a particular focus is needed on identifying and legislating for needs of marginalised groups; clarity about those responsible for specific demands regarding labour legislation and actions against platforms in each country; mapping of legislators who support workers and systems that support companies within the legislative (lobbying) and judicial systems.

Gender and equality laws and policies

Issues

Specificity of platform work: Gender and equality legislation is not necessarily suited or responsive to the particular issues facing platform workers. This may be due to the emerging form of the work but also the failure to identify and then capture gender differences in regulatory studies of the sector.

Needs

Meaningful investigation of platform work by gender and equality regulators; critique of existing platform labour regulations through the lens of gender and equality; more involvement of women and other minoritised workers in regulation development.

Platform technology laws and lawmakers

Issues

Transnational platform regulation: Platform regulations enacted in one jurisdiction can impact platform workers across the globe (for example, FOSTA-SESTA laws; GDPR; competition laws). Alternately, platforms may use their transnational status to avoid effective regulation in particular jurisdictions.

Regulating algorithmic management: The algorithms that shape platform labour are typically proprietary knowledge of the platform and thus not readily available for inspection. Machine-learning also renders the functioning of algorithms impossible to clearly determine. Legislative bodies are often ill-equipped to analyse and legislate algorithms.

Platform flight: Platforms are also able to relatively rapidly exit markets if legislation becomes onerous, negatively affecting workers.

Needs

Engagement with platform workers and advocacy bodies in relation to platform regulation policy; increased oversight of algorithm development and review processes by platforms.

Platform governance architectures

Issues

Opaque policies: Platform workers’ livelihoods are impacted by moderation, ratings, and other internal policies that are often opaque, unevenly applied, and poorly policed. There are often few appeal procedures available and these are also unevenly policed and implemented.

Ineffective policies: Platforms often have unworkable or ineffective policies to prevent harassment, racist, sexist, homophobic, or other hostile labour conditions. Supports for workers experiencing these conditions are often absent or undeveloped.

Unilateral policy changes: Entry into the platform labour market may be via platform policies such as End User Licence Agreements or Partnership Programmes. These shape the conditions of work, remuneration, and also assert copyright and other controls over platform content and data created by platform workers. These policies can be unilaterally changed without consultation with workers.

Platform dependence: The inability to port data and networks across platforms can render workers and their livelihoods dependent on particular platforms and thus at the mercy of changes in their labour conditions.

ID policies: Policies relating to ID documentation are used to police entry into platform labour markets. These requirements can be onerous for some workers, especially migrants who are undocumented.

Needs

Adequate, robust, and efficient review procedures for decision-making within platforms; more transparency about platform policy and its implementation; critical appraisal of platform policy drawing on intersectional feminist and accessibility frameworks; worker voice in the ongoing development of platform governance systems; more robust engagement with harassment and hate speech; develop legitimate and effective support and reporting systems for workers experiencing harassment.

Policing and other supervisory bodies

Issues

Preparedness: Policing bodies, such as the labour inspectorate or OHS offices, are often under-prepared or unable to address platform work issues such as harassment or OHS breaches due to the emerging nature of such work, limited legal frameworks, (false) self-employment status of workers, or failure to appreciate the impact on livelihoods.

Technical challenges: Enforcement bodies are often under-prepared, unwilling, or unable to police technical dimensions of platform work such as algorithmic management.

Unwillingness to report: Many platform workers may be unwilling to report work-related issues to authorities due to vulnerabilities related to their migration status or the legal context of their work. This hesitancy may also apply to social rights, health rights, and taxation issues.

Needs

Information on the functioning of platforms, clear guidelines on applicable laws and insight into problematic working conditions of platform work; information for workers on protections in the event of abuse, harassment, accidents, injury, or death as a result of work; the extension of important labour and OHS protections to self-employed platform work; extended authority for supervisory bodies over conditions within the platform economy; oversight and monitoring of platform work compliance within regulatory frameworks.


The nature of platform work is broadly defined and constantly changing. We welcome suggestions of additions or amendments to this list. Please email pwillcost@uoc.edu.

Produced by Working Group 1 members (WG leaders: Dr. Kylie Jarrett and Dr. Jing Hiah) with contributions from all working groups of the P-Will COST Action (CA21118)