Platforms were supposed to set workers free. Ride-hailing, food, and grocery delivery platforms offered a vision of flexible hours without a boss — get on your bike or in your car and ride or drive, earning as you go. The reality is a lot more complex.
Rest of World, working in partnership with the research company Premise, surveyed more than 4,900 gig workers across 15 countries, trying to understand their financial situations, their emotional states, and their prospects. We focused on location-based platform work — mainly driving, riding, domestic, and care work.
We found that this kind of work is full of contradictions. Gig workers worry when they work. But many are also happy about their labor. It’s supposed to be flexible, part-time work, but more than half of gig workers make the majority of their earnings through platforms. They can earn relatively well, but they don’t see it as a long-term profession.
From workers’ responses, we scored gig work in each country across the three dimensions of the survey, to create an index of job quality. What our research shows is that gig workers do report similar issues worldwide, but there are significant variations between countries and professions.
In general, the quality of gig work is lower in countries with lower incomes — Russian gig workers report greater satisfaction than those in India, where gig work feels more precarious and stressful.
The dissatisfaction we found in lower-income countries wasn’t, as we might have expected, about wages. In fact, gig workers in most of the places we surveyed were generally content with their pay. More than 69% in India said that they were financially “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their work, although in some countries, like Ukraine, that number is far lower.
But subjective satisfaction does not always reflect the actual financial returns of the job. Gig workers tend to work long hours. On an hourly basis, around 40% earn less than minimum wage.
Job quality is about a lot more than just money. Our survey showed that workers have mixed feelings about their jobs. On aggregate, almost 65% of gig workers said they often or always felt happy at work in the past week. However, many frequently or always felt worried, unsafe, tired, or angry.
Almost everywhere, delivery is the most stressful type of platform work. Domestic workers tend to report less stress and less worry than riders and drivers. Indian workers on delivery and ride-hailing platforms were the most likely of anyone in the survey to say they didn’t feel safe. Ukraine and Russia were outliers, with relatively few people saying they were worried or stressed.
It’s not surprising that gig workers’ frustrations vary from country to country and role to role, given how much difference exists between the contexts they’re operating in. The free-text results from our surveys, in which we asked workers to list their top fears, showed a range of concerns, from being killed and mugged to simply not making enough money to cover their costs.
This insecurity could be why so few gig workers see working for the platforms as a long-term job.
About one in seven workers in India, Indonesia, and Ghana do not see themselves staying in the job beyond the year. In Pakistan, about 30% of the workers wanted to quit in less than a month.
There is considerable variation in prospects between different types of gig work. Delivery workers were more likely than any other kind of worker in our survey to say that they wanted to leave within a month.
The dichotomies of gig work — terrible hours but reasonable pay / occasional freedom but huge insecurity — show why it endures and continues to grow, despite the many criticisms of the model. According to the International Labor Organization, there were 489 active ride-hailing and delivery platforms worldwide in 2020, 10 times the number there were in 2010, and “platformization” is spreading to many sectors of the economy. These huge shifts in the workforce have created challenges for governments, regulators, and organized labor, but it appears that unions are catching up. Forty-eight percent of the participants in our survey told us they were part of a formal group or union, and 49% said they’d participated in strikes or other industrial actions. Across the world, gig workers are increasingly getting organized, trying to push governments and companies to improve their conditions.