New Open Access Paper! Towards Decent Work in the Digital Age: Findings from Fairwork Germany

Posted on 09.06.2021
Busy Lieferando bicycle delivery person hurries to deliver food in city under drastic life restrictions imposed by authorities
D Busquets /

By Alessio Bertolini, Maren Borkert, Fabian Ferrari and Mark Graham
There are tens of millions of digital platform workers around the world performing activities essential to society—as demonstrated drastically by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, when supplying food, care and passenger transportation services, many platform workers face low pay, precarity as well as poor and dangerous working conditions. Fracture lines of inequalities are affecting particularly women, migrants and people from a minority ethnic background, who form the core part of the gig workforce. As such, the international Fairwork research project aims not just to understand the gig economy, but to change it.

In this new open-access paper, Fairwork researchers Alessio Bertolini, Maren Borkert, Fabian Ferrari and Mark Graham present key findings of the Fairwork project in Germany.

Germany strongly benefits from its embeddedness in the global economy. Yet, megatrends such as globalisation, digitalisation and demographic change still pose serious challenges to people’s employment and income equalities in the country. Both international and home-grown platforms have found in Germany a fertile ground for growth, but the spread of the platform economy has also been seen as contributing to undermining labour standards.

The Fairwork 2020 ratings for Germany, the second round of annual scores for the country, evaluated the working conditions on 10 gig economy platforms in Germany, by scoring them against the global Fairwork principles. We found that even in a highly regulated labour market context like the German one, platform workers experience precarity and insecurity and have limited access to employment rights. Low and piece-rate pay, lack of health and safety protections, limited access to social protection, unclear and unintelligible contracts, lack of transparency in decision making, limited ability to be collectively represented are just some of the main issues platform workers face.

Within this context, two recent legislative actions taken by the German government in 2021 are of particular interest for assuring fair work standards in today’s economy, ie. the ‘Law on Modernization of the Passenger Transportation Act (PBefG)’ and the ‘Law on Due Diligence in Supply Chains’. Both legislative initiatives can be understood as attempts by German ministries to create fair conditions for business activities spurred by globalisation and digitalisation, which have determined our everyday life for years. The paper concludes that, despite these recent regulatory initiatives, much more needs to be done to ensure a fairer platform economy in Germany.