The Fairwork Germany 2020 report (English; German) highlights how platforms in Germany fare in the working conditions they provide to their workers. This research is particularly timely in light of the COVID-19 public health crisis, which has brought the risks faced by front-line platform workers into sharp relief.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to the fore the contradictions of the platform economy. On the one hand, it is highlighting the important role that many platform workers play in bringing essential goods and services to those who are self-isolating or quarantined. On the other hand, it has also brought into sharp relief the risks that many of these workers face daily, especially with many platforms providing them with inadequate support during this crisis.
Today, the Fairwork Project is releasing a set of scores which evaluate the working conditions offered by platforms operating in Germany—such as Uber, Helpling, and Amazon Flex—against our fair work principles. In the current health crisis, and with the likely fall in work opportunities in coming months, our research on platform work in Germany is of particular relevance.
In the past few years, the platform economy has rapidly expanded in Germany, and with it we are seeing a dramatic change in the ways work is arranged and organised. Digital labour platforms offer job opportunities to individuals who might find it difficult to find work otherwise, and help to reduce unemployment. Nevertheless, growing evidence shows that platform workers across the world often face unfair working conditions, lacking some or all the employment rights and social protection afforded to other workers. In order to assess the state of the platform economy in Germany, a collaboration between the University of Oxford and the Technical University of Berlin has analysed ten of the country’s largest labour platforms against five principles of fairness—fair pay, fair conditions, fair contracts, fair management, and fair representation—and has given them each a fairness rating out of ten.
CleverShuttle is at the top of this year’s league table, with Zenjob coming a close second. The Fairwork scores aim to help Germans to understand which labour platforms are committed to provide fair work.
Our research is especially relevant in light of the current health crisis. Many platform workers, such as those working for ride-hailing and delivery companies, have been at the frontlines of the crisis, allowing us to access transport services, and essential goods from the safety of our homes. That also means that they are more at risk of contracting the novel Coronavirus. However, many platforms have not provided adequate health and safety protections to their workers, nor support for those unable to work. Platforms and governments need to make sure the platform workers are adequately protected.
In our 2020 scores, all platforms but one were able to evidence that workers are paid at least the minimum wage, whilst seven out of 10 platforms were able to evidence that they have policies in place to protect workers from risks arising from the processes of work. As regards the contract, all platforms provide terms and conditions in a clear, transparent and accessible form and for six out of 10 platforms, the contract was shown to genuinely reflect the nature of the relationship between the platform and the workers. Nevertheless, only half of the platforms were able to demonstrate that their management processes allowed for due process for decisions affecting workers and only one platform has a substantial policy in place to prevent discrimination against people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Finally, the principle of fair representation was only met by two platforms and only one platform was establishing a collective body of workers.
Many platform workers in Germany are migrants, whom we often found to have mixed feelings about working for platforms. On the one hand, platform work presents limited legal and bureaucratic barriers to work, and therefore, migrant workers often find it to be a relatively easy way to enter the German labour market and earn an income, even without fluency in German. On the other hand, many find working with platforms to be precarious, and some complain about poor working conditions. The challenge for the German platform economy is therefore not only that of providing more jobs, but also to provide fair jobs.
In Germany and abroad, Fairwork’s research has shown that platform workers often face low pay, dangerous work conditions, opaque algorithmic management structures, and barriers to organising and bargaining collectively. However, decent work and job creation are not mutually exclusive. This is why, by bringing workers and other stakeholders to the table, Fairwork is developing a code of basic worker rights that are compatible with sustainable business models.
Fairwork engages directly with platform managers to suggest avenues for improvement. We also seek to furnish consumers with enough information to be intentional about the platforms they choose to interact with, thus contributing to pressure on platforms to improve their working conditions and their scores. In addition, Fairwork engages with policy makers and governments to advocate for extending appropriate legal protections to all platform workers, irrespective of their legal classification. Finally, and most importantly, Fairwork collaborates with workers and workers’ organisations to develop and continually refine their principles to remain in line with their needs. Ultimately, the project aims to support workers in collectively asserting their rights.