Global Labour University

GLU Alumni Research Project

Collective representation and action of workers in the platform economy

The platform economy involves three parties the internet-based platform (or app), which wields the dominant position among the parties, the users who are the final recipients of the service, and the platform workers who are providing a service via the platform. In essence, the platform economy involves the outsourcing of tasks to a large pool of workers via the intermediary which is the internet platform.



In the literature, the terms platform economy, gig economy, digital economy, and digital labour platforms are used interchangeably. Digital labor platforms can be either web-based or location-based. In the case of the former, contingent (task or project-based) intangible work is delivered digitally and organized via online outsourcing platforms that bring together buyers and sellers . Meanwhile, for location-based digital labour platforms, the organisation of work is digitized and the service allocated via a platform is tangible and delivered to a client in a physical location.

According to Stanford, the rise of platform work is part of the continuing capitalist objective of creating more precarious jobs . He adds that platform work is associated with the fall of the standard employment relationship as a result of the ongoing preoccupation of private employ yers with profitably extracting acceptable levels of work effort from their employees. Thus, the rise of platform work reflects not just technological innovation, particularly in the services sector, but also the evolution of broad social relationships and power imbalances.

In general, flexibility and individualization characterize work in the digital economy. The following are some of the employment and working conditions of workers engaged in platform work:

  • no wage standards; payments are sometimes delayed or unfair compared with the amount of effort or skill spent
  • Unclear and irregular working hours
  • The difference in time zones int erferes with work-life balance
  • Lack of information on who the client is and the purpose of the task, poor communication and feedback, and opacity of procedures
  • Workers find themselves unable to upgrade their skills or are constrained by the specificity of their profile
  • job instability as there’s no guarantee that workers will find work; work can be volatile and uncertain
  • Most workers are independent contractors and this removes many labour rights and social protections from them (worker misclassification as independent contractors)
  • Workers are left to manage their occupational safety and health protection
  • Poor treatment by clients and the absence of an appeal/ dispute resolution mechanism
  • Contractual arrangements of workers mean they receive no additional financial benefits or protections beyond their pay
  • Lack of formal worker associations and collective bargaining with either platform or clients; no formal association that will negotiate on behalf of platform workers

Indeed, most platform workers experience decent work deficits. This is exacerbated by the lack or limited reach of regulations dealing with the operations of digital platform companies and the non-coverage of labour laws of platform workers in many countries.

In the recently closed Global Labor University Applied Alumni Research School (GLU AARS ) held from 31 March to 4 April 2019 at the Kassel University in Germany, a research group was organized to document and analyze organizing and collective action initiatives, whether initiated by trade unions or other worker organizations or workers themselves, that promote the rights of and accord protection to workers in the platform economy. Two GLU alumnae, Dr. Melisa R. Serrano, associate professor at the School of Labor and Industrial Relations of the University of the Philippines, and dr Edlira Xhafa, Coordinator of the GLU Online Academy, recently completed a research project commissioned by the International Labor Organization on “Representation Models and Collective Action of Workers in Informal Employment”, which includes workers in the platform economy, are coordinating this research group. The research group is comprised of 12 alumni of the GLU.

During the research group session on 2 April 2019, Dr. Serrano made a presentation about the nature of work and work for organisations in the digital/platform economy and some initiatives undertaken by trade unions, other worker organizations, and workers themselves in various countries on collective representation and action of workers in the platform economy. The objectives and methodology of the research project were also discussed during the research group‘s session.

Research objectives:

The general aim of the research is to explore possible patterns in the forms of collective action and representation of workers in the platform economy.

In doing so, the research will focus on initiatives in which workers in the platform economy have succeeded in organising collectively and/or in embarking on collective actions. The initiatives may be union-initiated, self-organised, and/or initiated by other labour organisations. Specifically, the research will:

  • Determine and analyze country-specific regulatory frameworks, if they exist, that deal with:
    • The operation of platform companies
    • The employment and working conditions of workers engaged by platforms
  • Identify and describe the most dominant types of platform-based work existing in a particular country;
  • Find out the general employment and working conditions of workers engaged by these platforms;
  • Identify and analyze the forms of collective r representation and collective action in the specific initiative, including:
    • Underlying reasons and triggers
    • Strategies involved (and the factors that influenced the choice of strategies)
    • Outcomes to date
    • Sustainability issues
  • Identify and analyse the constraining and facilitating factors that may have influenced the outcomes of the initiatives; other
  • Recommend policies and strategies that aim at facilitating the representation and protection of workers in the platform economy.

The research objectives as laid down above will also be the suggested structure of the case study report.


The case study method will primarily be used by the alumni who are participating in the research group. The case study may focus on a specific sector, platform, or group of workers. In gathering data for the case study, the alumni will use the following methods: (1) review and analysis of secondary literature government data and records, organizational records, media articles, etc.; (2) Interviews with key informants (eg government authorities, leaders of trade unions and other worker organizations, non government organizations, officers of platform companies) and selected platform workers using an interview guide or a semi-structured questionnaire; (3) focus group discussions; and (4) field and/or participant observations.

The case studies and the project team:

The project aims to generate at least 10 case studies. Twelve alumni will be involved in the project, including the research coordinator who will prepare the integrative report.

The project will propose that the results of the case studies will be discussed in a three-day workshop in Kassel in June 2021.

Project duration:

The research project will be implemented in 18 months. The project duration includes fieldwork for the case study, writing the case study, and writing the synthesis or integrative report.

Contact us

For additional information, please contact: 

Project Coordinators:
» Melisa R. Serrano
» Edlira Xhafa

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