by Mark Griffiths, Collective Benefits
We believe that all workers — whatever their employment status — deserve decent protection from the risks that arise from work. This should include (at a minimum) income protection for accident, injury and disability, and public liability insurance. It is our view that these protections should be paid for by the platform that the worker works through from day one, task one.
One of the barriers to achieving this has been a perceived risk that making these protections available would be used to argue for a change in employment classification. We, therefore, welcome the unambiguous statement in the proposals that benefits and protections can be offered to independent workers with no influence on their status (clause 23 of the proposed Directive).
The clarity that this provides offers the prospect of strengthened independent work in the platform economy — the heart of our social mission.
We view other parts of the proposals as a similar — and welcome — assertion of the importance of worker wellbeing. For example, we believe the proposed Directive sets out important rights that will enable all who work through platforms to understand, shape, and contest the algorithms that affect their working lives.
If implemented well, these proposals have the potential to be good for both workers (by improving well-being at work) and for platforms (leading to improvements in worker retention and work performance). In this sense, they offer the prospect of a double benefit and the rare example of doing good with no trade-off.
It is important to understand why these proposals could achieve this, as otherwise there is a risk that the promised gains could be lost in delivery. The studies on motivation and wellbeing at work make it clear that humans have an innate need for autonomy, or to feel in control of what we do. For example, autonomy has been shown to be important for explaining volunteer satisfaction, teachers’ use of e-learning technologies, and physical exercise.
It is this desire for autonomy that sits behind these very human quotations from our conversations with platform economy workers -
“I don’t tend to get many jobs. Some people get a lot of deliveries and I don’t understand why. Is it their ratings? It does have a big impact.”
“Sometimes there is a lack of communication — when you get automated messages that are a bit harsh in tone … They need to have a person manually looking.”
Realistically, some aspects of work, and how it is managed, will always reduce our autonomy. However, within the realities of working life there are still concrete, evidence-informed, ways that feelings of autonomy in the platform economy can be enhanced. For example, by helping workers understand how tasks are allocated and prices set, by giving them the opportunity to contest decisions such as being suspended from the platform, or to be involved in shaping how algorithms work and understanding the human consequences.
The proposals from the EC effectively sign post these. What is less convincing are some of the means to realise these goals. For instance, from a learning point of view it is pretty implausible that a written document, no matter how “concise, transparent, intelligible and easily accessible,” will give people the understanding that is needed to enhance their feelings of autonomy in relation to algorithms. Will it even be read?
Maybe one explanation for this practical shortfall is that the proposals around algorithmic management are framed around rights. What we are suggesting is that there is another way of seeing these proposals, one that is even more strongly connected to the theme of quality working conditions and good jobs. This is the lens of motivation and wellbeing at work.
Reframing the proposals in this way will actually create a source of competitive advantage for platforms.
The need for autonomy is less obviously apparent than the need for accident and injury insurance, or sick pay. Nonetheless, it is a real need that we do bring to work and is a core — inescapable — driver of wellbeing at work.
Realising more of it in the platform economy will be a good thing.
The opinions and views expressed in this publication are those of the authors. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Reshaping Work.