A good gig? “Uberisation” of work and what it means for women

By Luisa Ernst

The on-demand economy for domestic work is rising in volume and spreading across an ever-larger number of sectors in developing countries. As a consequence, Uber-style domestic work apps could change the way millions of women and men find work.

A recent ODI study outlines some of the potential benefits on-demand platforms can offer domestic workers, such as choice and flexibility in finding work and better remuneration. It may also disrupt the way domestic workers organise themselves by making it easier for them to connect.

Yet, the report finds that overall this burgeoning area of domestic employment threatens access to decent work, whereby women — who make up 80% of the 67 million domestic workers globally — may be affected disproportionately.

Low and insecure incomes, discrimination, further entrenchment of unequal power relations within the traditional domestic work sector, and the erosion of established labour and social protections are key challenges. Especially in countries which have relatively advanced social security systems, uberisation of domestic work poses a threat as it may undermine these established networks. In addition, employers are able to more easily preselect who they are hiring, making it more likely that harmful and discriminatory power relationships which disadvantage the weakest in society will be maintained.

Yet, it is not the technology, but the business model applied to these platforms which are problematic. And the infancy of the on-demand domestic work economy in developing countries means standards can still be raised. This will involve proactive efforts by companies to ‘design-in’ good practice, as well as by governments to ensure an integrated future policy, legal, practice and research agenda.


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