In Seoul, food delivery apps compete to get your meal to you at “bullet speed,” sending drivers like Jang Hyuk hurtling across the city, racing against the clock on routes pre-planned by an algorithm. It’s the same in Bogotá, where Venezuelan migrant Lisandro Linarez braves the weather, the crime, and the occasional angry dog for $9 a day, if he’s lucky, working for delivery super app Rappi.
Digitally-mediated gig work has surged over the past decade. The International Labor Organization counted 489 active ride-hailing and delivery platforms worldwide in 2020, ten times the number that existed in 2010. The fluid nature of the workforce means there are few consistent estimates to how many people are now engaged in this kind of labor, but some researchers believe that as much as 10% of the global workforce now engages in some kind of gig work.
While the “sharing economy” model really began to take off in the U.S., gig work platforms are now global, adapting their models — or not — for wholly different contexts. To try to understand how this kind of work is experienced outside of the West, Rest of World spoke to platform workers around the world. Through a survey of more than 4,900 workers, conducted in partnership with the research company Premise, and interviews with dozens more workers, we have tried to capture their experiences. We found great commonalities: Gig work is stressful and fragile; it pays relatively well, but it also costs workers a lot in fuel, data, and insurance. Workers, whether driving a taxi in Ethiopia or a truck in Indonesia, don’t feel they can turn down gigs, meaning that it’s rarely as flexible as the companies make out.
The common issues that gig workers face, whether in Manhattan or Mumbai, Johannesburg or London, is spurring the creation of a truly global movement, as drivers and riders link up across borders, pressuring companies and governments to recognize one simple fact: Gig work is work, and it needs to be paid as such.
Doctors, drivers, delivery workers: the real voices of the gig economy
53.9 kilometers | The distance covered in one day by Rappi delivery rider Lisandro Linarez in Colombia.
25% | The amount that tuk-tuk driver Nangahami Premawathi pays in commission to ride-hailing apps in Sri Lanka.
5.0 (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐) | Indonesian truck driver Apriansa’s consistently-perfect rating.
1,000 calls | The number of mobile consultations performed in one month by Indian doctor Girikumar Venati.
21,300 won | About $18.50. That’s what delivery driver Jang Hyuk earns in an hour in South Korea.
400 rand | About $28. That’s how much an on-demand cleaner Nomagugu Sibanda in South Africa earns in one day.
13 hours | The length of ride-hailing driver Ashenafi Alemseged’s shifts in Ethiopia.
Platform work is precarious by nature. Even though more than half of all gig workers rely on it for most of their income, 40% of them make less than minimum wage. But it’s not just about the money. It’s about fragility and insecurity. Day to day, gig workers worry about their health, their safety, and whether or not they’ll make enough to cover their costs. More than 60% want to quit within a year. Gig work is worse for women, who earn less on the platforms than men. Meanwhile, even though the biggest gig platforms are disrupting the global workforce, few of these companies have shown they can sustainably make a profit, relying instead on investors to fuel their growth.