“ The specificity of PLUS is to go beyond a traditional reading of the work to propose an “urban” approach to the question of platforms, which aims to analyze the different forms of value production (and its possible redistribution) at urban scale and not limited values directly related to the direct exploitation of work.”
The PLUS project will analyze the main economic impacts of digital platforms at work, seeking to fill a gap in the understanding and resolution of the challenges posed by the digitalization of work.
The Portuguese team (directed by the Center for Social Studies) reveals the multidisciplinary approach of the project: the coordinator, Giovanni Allegretti, is an urban planner; Emanuele Leonardi is a sociologist specialized in biopolitics and relations between environment and work; Michelangelo Secchi studied economic history and public administration. The three are linked to the doctorate in political science of the CES / FEUC “Democracy in the XXI Century”.. The others two members of the team come from different areas: Luca Onesti studied political philosophy and is a journalist who has experience in Lisbon and Portugal; Giorgio Pirina is a PhD student in sociology and social research at the University of Bologna.
Following, the point of view of CES regarding some key points of the project and the topics that are addressed in it.
The specificity of PLUS is to go beyond a traditional reading of the work to propose an “urban” approach to the question of platforms, which aims to analyze the different forms of value production (and its possible redistribution) at urban scale and not limited values directly related to the direct exploitation of work. For us (CES), researching platforms is also adopting a methodological lens to analyze the interaction between technology and society in two privileged areas: the city and the work. The idea behind it is that neither the defense nor the demonization of the platforms is useful to understand its immense diffusion, and its role as “spaces of conflict” from which can be developed a new form of “welfare” appropriate to the social reality of the man of 21st century. An example: in Palermo the municipality organizes with Airbnb a participatory budget pilot process called “Danisinni & Ballarò intransito” (https://intransito.comune.palermo.it) which — by choice of the platform — returns to the territories of two municipalities administrative districts 10% of the impost of stay of the tourists: a form of “return” that wants to partially compensate the emptying and the turistification that the platform brings to the districts. It’s enough? Can it be radicalized and conjugated with other measures? Only by accompanying these experiments can we imagine strong measures for the future …
Conclusions in relation to the labor challenges that the economy of the platforms is raising from the point of view of working conditions:
Being the project started in January of this year, not yet, we have no conclusions. In preparing the project, however, we have found out to what extent the work linked to the platforms is irreducible to classical salaried work and that, therefore, immense social, legal and contractual problems are generated, which can bring “injustices” to the classic subjects (hotels, taxi drivers). The central points are two: a) the platforms redefine the concept of subordination because the application allows bringing the concept of outsourcing to a degree of intensity never seen before; b) the platforms emphasize the social activity expressed in the network, using user data for private profit purposes. Again, it is necessary to imagine new forms of regulation for this productive activity of value that, however, does not appear in the classic form of wage labor.
For instance, about the point a), according to the preliminary interviews to privileged witnesses and experts gathered for the first stage of the project in Lisbon, we can add that the Lei 45/2018, — so-called “Lei da Uber” (Uber law), which set the legal framework for the private transport digital platforms that operate in Portugal (Uber, Cabify, Bolt, Kapten) –, has created a framework of regulations that will define the employment bound of the workers of this kind of platform. In the next stages of the research, we will investigate the results obtained from the application of this law. In particular, we will rise the question of whether the law can improve the workers’ conditions with regard to the concepts of subordination and outsourcing.
The economy of the platforms and the retreat of workers’ rights:
The purpose of projects such as PLUS is to help neutralize this risk. Hence the need for our project to work in synergy with other structures, such as COLABOR (the Collaborative Laboratory coordinated by Manuel Carvalho da Silva) or the CriSalt (Observatory of Crises and Alternatives) to have a more integrated view of the different impacts of the platforms in different fields. These new forms of work are “dishes” (for example UBER Portugal serves as a bridge for many Brazilians to flee the country at a time of crisis and political transformations, to temporarily settle in Europe). And it is interesting to observe how it is not only customers to choose between concurrent platforms: also the productive chains and the new professions that are organized around them (caregivers of Airbnb, cleaning companies, car rental, etc.) seek to cut back solutions from better welfare by selectively using different concurrent platforms that are emerging (for example Mytaxi, Chauffer privè, etc.), to maximize opportunities for social protection, the value of the profit that each one guarantees to its workers. Without forgetting that against the perceived damages of the new platforms born alternative projects (FairBnB) or integrators (Airdna.co; Inside Airbnb) that allow to better monitor the impacts on the urban economy, producing more accessible data and maps …
Main problems that can arise from this way of working:
In essence, the point is that the autonomization of the fixed shifts and the routine work that the applications certainly allow, can easily become a mechanism of segmentation and hierarchization of the work force. In each social change is a relationship of power: for now who was earning money were mostly platforms and workers lost, but a series of signals across Europe show that the trend may be about to reverse.
(examples: http://effimera.org/regno-unito-uber-la-gig-economy-sconfitta-dai-lavoratori-alberto-pantaloni/; first sentence of Turin: https://ilmanifesto.it/la-sentenza-di-torino-ecco-perche-i-riders-di-foodora-non-sono-lavoratori-subordinati/; second sentence of Turin: https://www.ilfattoquotidiano.it/2019/01/11/foodora-a-torino-accolto-il-ricorso-di-5-rider-siano-retribuiti-come-da-contratto-collettivo/4891246/).
Need for the creation of supranational legislation to frame work in these platforms and the rights of professionals:
In the context of the PLUS, we must definitely answer yes. The general regulatory framework must be of European inspiration, of course that each country will incorporate the directives respecting their social, political and cultural specificities. It is a question of justice, also in relation to more traditional services that pay taxes in a solid way for different countries, and a guarantee to avoid dumping between services in different countries and cities.
Impact of the growth of the platform economy on the evolution of the salaries of qualified professionals:
Much depends on the public regulation that can be imagined and implemented. If platforms continue to grow in the absence of a clear regulatory framework, which can also guarantee workers, then even the salaries of self-employed professionals and “classic” workers will face a process of progressive inflation due to the competition of labor providers mobilized by platforms …
More information about us: Centre for Social Studies, University of Coimbra. https://www.ces.uc.pt/en .
— By CES.