Much attention has been given to the platform economy or the gig economy, particularly when it comes to the lower-skilled part of this workforce. The most recurring examples are Uber or Deliveroo drivers and the precariousness associated with this form of labour. Nevertheless, the fact that freelancers are increasingly accessing digital platforms in order to gather work remains unexplored. This is what drove Dr. Giustini to study freelance platforms.
The main findings will be soon available under her current research project’s name “UNSEEN: The work of freelancers in the platform economy”.
We, as Linkus, are interested in the future of freelance work, so we decided to join forces with her. You could help as well by participating in this survey 😉 whose results will be included in the study.
And to give you extra motivation, Linkus will offer you two cinema tickets.
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Deborah Giustini is an Italian postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at the KU Leuven, holding a PhD in Sociology from the University of Manchester. Throughout the years, her interest has been focused on investigating different forms of non-standard employment.
We had the pleasure to talk about her current project on freelance platforms, in which she explores the developments in digital marketplaces across Europe and East Asia.
34% of people working through platforms are freelancers
There is no doubt that digitalisation has transformed the world of work as we knew it. It not only changed the labour market and the way we work, but also the skills we use and even the tasks and activities we work on.
Digitalisation has been steadily permeating the various sectors of the economy, a phenomenon that has accelerated exponentially as a result of the COVID -19 pandemic. This context has boosted the growth of digital freelancing (or e-lancing) platforms.
The concept of freelancing, where people work independently or autonomously for different clients at the same time, is not something new. However, new technologies have allowed freelancing to be taken to another level through
This is the core focus of Dr. Giustini’s research. “By digital marketplace we mean both the online platforms such as Linkus, but also some other hiring and matching services that tend to have more or less human interaction between the sides: matching service in the middle, then the clients [(companies)],
According to available survey data, between 31% and 34% of the 28 million digital platform workers in the EU are digital freelancers.
In order to deeply understand this phenomenon and have a comprehensive view about it, she talked with stakeholders and experts on platform economies, and, of course, freelancers themselves.
Freelance work is becoming increasingly white collar
On the one hand, her research’s findings debunk misconceptions that gig economy work is only low-skilled and low-paid. It suggests that, far from having a feeling of exploitation, freelancers see it as a “hybrid ecosystem” with exclusive access to a varied pool of attractive projects from well-known brands and mid-to large companies, usually hard to find “through traditional labour markets”. They normalised the use of the platforms as a regular part of the ever-evolving professional landscape.
On the other hand, even though freelancers interviewed recognised that they felt individualised, fragmented, and insecure as they increasingly relied on internet marketplaces to get work, they were unable to isolate the factors contributing to the decline in the quality of their self-employment on any of the available platforms. Instead, they addressed wider issues related to self-employment, such as a lack of labour rights and the need to diversify their job possibilities.
The findings conclude that, as a result of the digital disruption, freelancers are adapting to a new job structure that includes the possibility of being precarious. This can be due to the structural constraints of the labour market and the lack of certainty regarding their social security, both of which precede the digitalisation of their employment, but have also been made worse as a result of it.
Improving freelancer’s experience on platform economies
- Improving the traceability of platform work in terms of algorithmic and employment data is key for platforms to declare labour information to national and/or supra-national authorities, and work alongside these to provide a clearer and improved framework as it comes to labour rights, employment protection, regulation of employment status, etc.
- Algorithmic fairness: proposing that digital platforms ensure sufficient resources mediated by human workers for monitoring algorithms and exercising functions that protect freelancers from automated negative consequences, as automated sanctions or dismissal based on opaque platform evaluation. This would help freelancers the right to contest automated decisions if the need arises.
Linkus takes care of freelancers’ wellbeing
At Linkus, we protect freelancers, so we have taken these concerns into account during the development of both the value proposition and the algorithm. Even more, a more balanced and transparent approach to freelance recruitment is the same raison d’être of Linkus.
Ensuring the soundness of our freelancers, as seen before, is not easy. But we challenge ourselves. By way of illustration, on Linkus, the first selection of candidates yields hidden names so that the “exotic” ones are not, even unconsciously, object of biases nor discrimination.
On the other hand, Linkus foresees the contract for both parties (i.e. companies and freelancers) in which one or all of the parties that sign it agree to maintain the secrecy of the information shared between them. Besides, and very importantly, we only work with companies that can pay the freelancer within 30 days after the invoice.
Those who choose to be freelancers are, generally, looking for a balance in their lives. Nevertheless, they have a different instability that that of a permanent job, that is why we believe that in order to access this type of talent, companies must adapt.
The study’s findings so far conclude that, as a result of the digital disruption, freelancers are adapting to a new job structure that includes the possibility of being precarious. This can be due to the structural constraints of the labour market and the lack of certainty regarding their social security, both of which precede the digitalisation of their employment, but have also been made worse as a result of it.
European Commission’s proposals on improving the traceability of platform work and ensuring algorithmic fairness thanks to human moderation could help solve this problematic. Nevertheless, the ones to take action in the first place are the companies responsible of the platform economies, and we are determined to take the lead and constantly improve.