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It’s time to regulate the gig economy

Technology is used to monitor workers doing platform-based work. It can also be used to regulate work and protect workers.

Janine Berg and Valerio De Stefano


“But how to regulate? To begin with, the technology that has allowed parcelling and distributing work to ‘the crowd’ can also be used to regulate the work and provide protection to workers. Technology can monitor when workers are working, when they are searching for work, and when they are taking breaks. For example, Upwork, the on-line freelance marketplace, offers its clients the option of paying by the hour, as it can monitor the workers by recording their keyboard strokes and mouseclicks and taking random screen shots. Uber expects drivers to always have the app on, which can track drivers’ whereabouts including their downtime.

This same technology can thus also be used to ensure that workers earn at least the minimum wage or ideally to regulate the wage agreed collectively by the workers and the platform. If labour protections are put in place, then platforms will have the incentive to re-organise work to limit search time. Technology and better organisational design can help to minimise search time, improving efficiency for all. The technology can also be used to facilitate payment of social security contributions.”


For more on this see What’s Really New About the Gig Economy?


Parcel Delivery Workers and the degradation of work

Kirsty Newsome,  Sian Moore,  Cilla Ross

Life for voiceless, low paid parcel delivery workers exposes the harsh realities of degraded work in 21st century Britain

The volume of parcel deliveries in Britain has exploded, accounting in 2016 for more than 1 billion home deliveries. Britain, the biggest online shopping market in Europe, boasts a growing army of workers engaged in the connected activities of logistics, distribution and delivery. Transformations in the logistics function and parcel delivery have been directed at securing more exacting, demanding and time critical levels of service delivery at minimum cost.

The introduction of hand-held Personal Digital Assistants (PDA) has also been crucial. These devices render the supply chain transparent by affording senders and their recipients `sight’ of an item’s progress and expected delivery time. The efficiency gains made possible however must be set alongside the costs for labour. Workers may be subject to labour intensification (more labour input per unit of labour time) and dehumanizing patterns of control that render them literally appendages to digital devices. Whether or not they are depends on their location within the sector. Read more

Breath-taking jobs: a case–control study of respiratory work disability by occupation in Norway

Researchers have identified seven jobs that have high staff turnover because workers are exposed to chemicals causing respiratory symptoms.

Read the article here


They found nearly 300 of 16,099 surveyed Norwegian workers had changed occupations because their previous jobs affected their breathing.

Cooks and chefs, welders, gardeners, sheet metal workers, cleaners, hairdressers and agricultural labourers were most at risk of respiratory symptoms – such as uncomfortable breathing, wheezing, chest tightness and allergies – and changing jobs, the researchers from the University of Oslo, the US National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and other institutions found.

Is the productivity drive hurting employers as well as employees?

Peter Bloom and Caroline Clark look at
The cost of productivity

There is a relentless fear that countries and companies will fall into a productivity gap. However, we should be just as worried about the “productivity trap”, when policymakers and managers promote harmful policies in the name of maximising productivity at all costs.

its a trap

The contemporary neoliberal mindset is particularly dangerous. It puts the responsibility for success squarely on the shoulders of individuals. This is unjust, and also very risky. Deeper structural issues are overlooked in the name of emphasising personal accountability. The ambition to make things better shifts to the game of figuring out who should take the blame. When no one and no organisation is ever productive enough, the emphasis is on managing failure, not transformational leadership.

There are other approaches. Many European countries – such as Germany and Sweden – experience high rates of productivity by providing citizens with greater worker rights, education opportunities, public infrastructure investments and social safety nets.

Fair Pay for You is based on PENALISING Them

Penalty Rates were set up because of what it says on the tin: a penalty to employers who penalised employees by making them work on weekends.

Bosses say that penalty rates are preventing them from employing people. That is exactly why penalty rates were introduced. Your health and social needs are what bears the cost, whilst employers privatise the gains.

We are told that we are living in the past, that it’s a 24/7 society so hanging on to outdated notions like penalty rates is a relic of the age of the dinosaurs.

But is it? Any real social and economic research done on the issue finds that the original claims and the decisions to pay penalty rates were based on social and physical needs that remain true to this day. A boss saying we need to “compete” is not research, just hubris and greed.



The World Health Organisation (WHO) has found that today, over 100 years after Justice Higgins said that penalty rates were aimed at penalising employers for making workers miss their day of rest, tinkering with our circadian rhythms (our body clock) is probably carcinogenic. The time we would have spent on self-care ie resting, eating in a slower way, exercising – is “bought back” by taking less exercise and eating fast food.

Overwork or working on weekends has been decisively shown to MAKE US FAT. We are not designed for constant work. The 19th century demands for eight hours work eight hours lay, 8 hours rest almost precisely matches the outer boundary of how much humans can safely work without damaging their health.

Olav Muurlink  reports on a large Hungarian study shows that being in control of your time is a crucial issue in well- being. It is possible to predict heart disease by simply asking “how much can you influence what happens in your work group?” Of the work variables in this study “sense of control” was the single most powerful predictor of heart disease in women, and not far behind for men.

Workers not only are more likely to work hours they can’t control, but they feel less in control of other aspects of their work and life.
The risk of injury to a worker on a 10 hour day is 41% higher than someone on an eight hour shift, and this increases when someone is on the 6th and 7th day of a week- long shift.

As more people become employed in what are seen as essentially “servant” industries by bosses (and hence low paying) ie hospitality, cleaning, waiting we all pay the price. Business looks for ways of paying less (cash, casual short shifts, no overtime or PENALTY rates, and society suffers with poorer health and lower pay. No trickle down here. It all is safely scooped up by those at the top.

One of the great examples of the failure of the 24/7 society was the early days of the Soviet Union (remember that place?)  The Bolsheviks aimed to eliminate the vestiges of capitalism and overtake capitalist societies. In this recasting of society weekends were out. The grand experiment was abandoned because it very quickly became apparent that more people were sick, working less in the longer time, production processes were not as good and service was worse.

Australian Innovation in Industrial Law

Initially it was Sunday that was the problem. Two years after his famous Harvester Judgement on a living wage, Justice Higgins ruled that workers at Broken Hill (in 1909)  should be awarded time and a half for all work done on the seventh day in any week, or an official holiday, or all work done in excess of any shift.

In 1919 Higgins and the Court reiterated their position stating that payments for work on Sundays have…been the highest because “it is the day for family and social and religious reunions, the day on which one’s friends are free, the day that is most valuable for rest and amenity under our social habits”. The claim for Saturday morning rates came with the winning of the 40 hour week from 1947, but the reasons remained the same. Our amenity, not theirs.

The “thin end of the wedge” process is being undertaken by the Productivity Commission. Their draft report recommends eliminating the difference between Saturday and Sunday rates by reducing Sunday rates naturally) penalty rates. Research by  Lyn Craig and the Social Policy Research Centre shows that for workers there is a distinct difference between Saturday and Sunday. Saturday is more for sport and weekly shopping, but Sunday, even though people might not go to church as much as in the past, is still regarded as the day of rest – a family day.

As Dan Woodman reports “For most, time off on our own is less enjoyable than time off with those we love and like. Those who work Sundays will miss out on sporting events, family lunches, concerts and shopping trips with friends. They will more likely be doing things on their own. As one of the young people in my research project described the impact of weekend and evening shifts, it can lead to “no social life, bad sleeping patterns and no friends”.

Nowadays employers want to penalise workers for working on weekends and especially Sundays, saying it is not good – for employers!! to actually have to pay them. The claim of extra employment is not borne out anywhere, only lower pay and more profit. The penalty was supposed to be a deterrent to employers requiring workers to work long or abnormal hours and compensation for workers for having to do this.

Resistance to penalty rate cuts is resistance to the grab for more of your time by those who see you as the precariat,  as cheap fodder for their gargantuan appetites, even as the world burns.


  • Penalty rates have been an integral part of the Industrial Relations system for over a century. Their origin in Australia can be traced to 1909, when Justice Higgins of the Commonwealth Conciliation and Arbitration Commission agreed that penalty rates for work on the seventh day of the week. The 1919 decision reinforced this.
  • In 1947 this right was broadened when the commission found that Saturday work should be compensated at 125% of the base rate and Sunday work should be increased to twice the base rate.
  • Employers must compensate employees for “the disturbance to family and social life and religious observance that weekend work brings”.
  • This decision gave the concept of the weekend the full respect of Australian law: not only is special compensation required for working on a weekend, there is a deliberate attempt to discourage weekend work.
  • Underpinning penalty rates is the concept that family, social and leisure time are important factors in a person’s life, that they contribute to improved health and wellbeing and that this time must be compensated for financially if it is to be restricted.
  • Recent research has provided clear evidence that an eight hour day is the maximum we should work to maintain our health
  • 24/7 claims are made to penalise workers who need to work to pay the bills, but add to the bottom line of employers
  • Ordinary time earnings on the minimum rate of pay will produce poverty line conditions. Penalty rates keep us afloat
  • Growing areas of employment have been the hospitality sector. Penalty rates clearly have had no impact on the level of employment
  • a summary of the state of play by Neale Towart

If Europe Takes Trade Union Rights For Granted… We Risk Losing Them

Esther Lynch, European Trade Union Congress Confederal Secretary, writes: According to the International Labour Organisation: “The fundamental principle of freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining is a reflection of human dignity. It guarantees the ability of workers, and employers, to join and act together to defend not only their economic interest but also civil liberties such as the right to life, security, integrity and personal and collective freedom.”

This may seem like restating the obvious, especially in Europe where trade unions date from the 19th century and are involved in high-level social dialogue in many countries.  And yet the fact is, these basic rights – and the trade unionists who exercise them – are under attack from governments or employers in a growing number of European countries including the UK, Belgium, Finland, France, Italy, Greece and Spain. Trade unionists have been assaulted and imprisoned, social dialogue abandoned and new laws drawn up making it ever more difficult for unions to organise industrial action.

Smartphone with a heart

A Dutch company trying to manufacture and market a fair trade mobile faces hard-to-solve sourcing and human rights problems.

Smartphones are the flagship of the global economy — the slogan on the back of every iPhone is “Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China” — and 1.4bn were made in 2015 (1). The two biggest brands, Apple (231m phones sold in 2015) and its South Korean rival Samsung (324m) (2), compete ruthlessly, which has led to terrible working conditions in their Asian assembly plants, under the spotlight after a spate of suicides at Foxconn, one of the biggest subcontractors in China. In 2015 Samsung was forced to create an $85m fund to compensate workers in its factories, where more than 200 have developed leukaemia. The world’s third-largest maker, Chinese multinational Huawei, had to close a factory in 2014 after accusations of using child labour (3).

Making smartphones also involves more than 30 different minerals, many sourced from places where there is little regard for the social and environmental impact of mining, which may fund armed conflicts, as in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Manufacturing a smartphone while respecting human rights and the environment may seem a utopian goal, even a mission impossible; but the Dutch social enterprise Fairphone has set out to do just that, and since 2013 has sold 60,000 Fairphone 1 “ethical smartphones”. In 2015 it launched the Fairphone 2, of which it hopes to sell 100,000 a year. Selling points are that Fairphone products do not fund militias in the DRC, and are assembled in Chinese factories with decent working conditions and a workers’ welfare fund. The Fairphone 2’s design helps to extend its lifespan and reduce its environmental impact, by making it easy for the user to remove and replace components, and by incorporating as much recycled plastic and copper as possible. Fairphone has set up a recycling programme in Europe and an e-waste collection programme in Ghana.

Fairphone doesn’t rely on investors but on users, recruited through an Internet crowdfunding campaign that raised nearly €7m in a few weeks in 2013. The Fairphone 2 was funded through pre-orders: buyers paid €525 for phones that would be delivered months later.

‘Still far from fair’

The media greeted the launch of these phones enthusiastically, despite the many limitations of this new mode of production. Fairphone admits the phones are still far from fair: its modest ambition is to build a movement for fairer electronics though it knows the path will be steep. I met the founder and CEO, Bas van Abel, at headquarters, in a former industrial warehouse in the port of Amsterdam. He said that one of Fairphone’s first business expenses in the DRC was a bribe to a local official in charge of mines, for permission to film. Fairphone next had to come to terms with another unpalatable reality: a video made in 2011 in the province of Katanga shows how mining operations in the DRC are mainly small-scale or even family-run, with young children working beside their parents. To obtain certified conflict-free tin, Fairphone joined a consortium of industry, local and international stakeholders and NGOs, which established a system of certification with specific packaging and labelling (4). This programme, launched on the recommendation of a UN expert group, became indispensable after the US Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act in 2010; section 1502 requires companies quoted on US stock exchanges to check whether they are using minerals that fund armed groups in the DRC or adjoining countries. But the mine certification process was new, and five years later only a few dozen extraction sites are legally permitted to sell tin. Many electronics giants have stopped purchasing tin in these countries, creating a de facto embargo on the three Ts — tin, tantalum and tungsten — and causing chaos in the mining sector, on which 8-10 million people depend for a living.

Doctoral students Christoph Vogel of the University of Zurich and Ben Radley of the International Institute of Social Studies in The Hague visited four “clean” areas in 2013 and 2014, but found the economic situation dire (5): the system has created new costs for miners, prices have stagnated and the black market has strengthened. The size of the territory to be regulated and the mobility of armed groups mean that a certified mine can fall under their control or that of their civilian accomplices. Many miners have returned to farming, which brings in only a sixth of the profit. Others have joined militias.

In 2014 a group of 70 academics (including Vogel and Radley), NGO representatives and other Congolese and international experts criticised the situation and called for greater attention to local stakeholders: “While the minerals help perpetuate the conflict, they are not its cause. National and regional political struggles over power and influence as well as issues such as access to land and questions of citizenship and identity are just some of the more structural drivers of conflict. […] progress has been made in producing more ethical products for consumers, but stakeholders have not yet proceeded to improve the lives of Congolese people.” They are concerned that fair trade will be used as a screen for economic neocolonialism in eastern DRC. Van Abel said: “There is some truth in that. Certification initiatives have not contributed to the development of local communities as we had hoped. But they have made it possible to restart trade and are essential to restore customers’ trust in the DRC. The next issue we must tackle is child labour. Our ambition is always to do better.” Fairphone describes the problems on its website, asking critics to be patient.

The problem of overtime

Fairphone has identified responsible tungsten mines in Rwanda and aims to use fair trade gold from Peru and Colombia. Van Abel said its greatest difficulty is penetrating the Chinese gold market. He had just come back from visiting Fairphone’s new assembly subcontractor in China, Hi-P International. Fairphone regularly sends employees to check that its phones are manufactured under satisfactory conditions, and commissioned Chinese auditing firm TAOS to conduct a social assessment of Hi-P. At Hi-P’s Suzhou factory, TAOS reported problems with safety, extensive use of temporary labour (61% of the workforce) and working hours, noting that “working hours exceeded 60 hours per week when production schedules were tight and […] some workers worked 28 days without a day off in July 2014” (6). Fairphone says Hi-P has undertaken to restrict its use of temps and limit working hours to 60 a week. But, said Van Abel, “if we reduce hours too far, the workers will earn less and may leave. Overtime is an important part of their wages, so we need to find some kind of monetary compensation.”

Fairphone took advice from the German trade union IG Metall and research organisation SOMO (7), and came up with a welfare fund to improve workers’ lives and give them a new voice within the company. Fairphone and its assembly subcontractor at the time, Guohong, invested $5 for each phone sold, and the fund accumulated $300,000 on the Fairphone 1. Some of this was used to provide fresh fruit in the canteen and organise evenings and days out, but most was paid out in bonuses to Guohong’s workers (between 500 and 900, depending on the volume of orders), who received an average of about $100 a month extra. But as Fairphone has chosen a new subcontractor for the Fairphone 2, the fund will in future serve only as a communication channel between Guohong’s workforce and management. Fairphone is setting up a similar fund for the 3,000-strong workforce at Hi-P’s assembly plant in Shenzhou (Hebei province).

I asked why the company calls its phones “Fairphone” if they don’t meet the criteria for fair trade. Van Abelsaid: “The name doesn’t describe what we are, but what we are aiming to be.” The project began as an awareness campaign on conflict minerals, which Van Abel launched in 2010, while he was creative director at the Waag Society, a Dutch foundation that fosters experimentation in art, science and technology, with the help of the NGO Action Aid. “We didn’t want NGOs to be involved on a regular basis. Since I’m a designer, I thought creating a phone would be a good way to shed light on the hidden issues in the supply chain.”

After two years searching for a conflict-free tin mine in the DRC, and a Chinese factory prepared to raise its social norms (slightly), Fairphone was officially established as a social enterprise in 2013. There was an in-house debate about the name: “We wanted to use the word ‘fair’ so that people would ask themselves what that really means. It could also make those who have an iPhone or a Samsung consider whether they are being socially and environmentally responsible.” Hence Fairphone’s transparency: on its website, it publishes a list of suppliers, a breakdown of manufacturing costs, and social assessments of its business partners, without trying to hide negative aspects.

When Fairphone launched its crowdfunding campaign, the PR strategy was designed to put it in a position of vulnerability. Van Abel said: “Every time someone criticised us — and they did — we were grateful for that criticism.”He went as far as to tell German and Dutch newspapersabout the bribes Fairphone had had to pay to officials for permission to film. Seen as “a narrative process that serves as an effective metaphor for the complexity of a supply chain”, the Fairphone leads consumers to question practices throughout the supply chain. In comparative tests it easily outperformed Samsung’s Galaxy S4 — the first phone certified as ecologically and socially responsible by the Swedish organisation TCO Development — which did little better than a non-certified phone.

Emilie Durochat, coordinator of the French Fair Trade Platform (Plateforme pour le Commerce Equitable), salutes the Fairphone as “a tool for the denunciation of poor working conditions”. Dominique Royat, director of the fair trade foundation Max Havelaar France, sees Fairphone’s approach as “striving for continuous improvement. In this sense, it has the same approach as the fair trade movement, which was created with the aim of changing the rules of global trade.”

Last year, with a turnover that had gone from zero to €16m in 18 months — all reinvested — Fairphone was crowned Europe’s fastest-growing technological startup by the specialist online publication, The Next Web (8). This sends a message that consumers want more ethical products.