This project aims at exploring and examining processes through which a new employment relationship and HR practices enabled by technology impact on working conditions within the Digitised Economy. Therefore this research project is concerned with answering questions such as: how is technology being used to control workers? what are the risks workers face in the context of digitised work environments? and how are workers responding to these new challenges?
Companies in platform gig-economy are looking for an increasingly individualised employment relationship that is heavily mediated through technology and algorithms, based on precarious work, and minimal contact with the employer. A relationship that is almost virtual, poses new challenges for working conditions and workers’ capacity to exercise agency, and bargain for better working conditions. Research has provided insights into the quality of work in these types of jobs (Huws, 2016; Wobbe, et al., 2016). However, there are significant shortfalls in the literature on the exact processes through which technology is used to enhance companies’ control over the labour process and how workers are able (or not) to exercise their agency. This project aims at tackling these gaps by exploring the ways in which new work and employment practices promoted by gig-economy companies re-shape working conditions as well as traditional collective and individual forms of worker agency in order to promote better quality work.
De-collectivisation of the workforce in Europe and the US, through declining trends of trade union density and influence, has been a notorious source of concern for academics and policy-makers (Bamber et al., 2016; ETUI, 2016). Researchers have theorised workforce collectivisation as outdated, under the argument that a conflictual employment relationship has been extinguished from the workplace. Earlier theorisations emphasised the change of societal paradigm from collective to a more individualist one (Brown, 1990). Another type of explanation from a unitarist perspective sees trade unions as irrelevant in the new employment relationship that seeks “win-win” situations (Gibbon, 2007). However, there is no convincing evidence that “individualism” has changed workers’ attitudes towards trade unions, nor a significant improvement in relations between management and workers (Hyman, 2001). Likewise, Collinson (1994) suggests that resistance in the workplace is still part of the everyday contemporary workplace.
Having this context in the background and building on the Nottingham Trent University’s Good Work agenda, and on the Taylor (2017) review’s call for better understanding the mechanisms of power and representation in contemporary workplaces, this project aims specifically at examining processes and stages through which new work and employment practices impact on working conditions and constrain collective agency; as well as how individuals find new strategies to collectively organise and regulate gig-economy companies’ behaviours.
Duggan, J., Sherman, U., Carbery, R. and McDonnell, A., 2019. Algorithmic management and app‐work in the gig economy: A research agenda for employment relations and HRM. Human Resource Management Journal.
Huws, U., Spencer, N., Syrdal, D.S. and Holts, K., 2017. Work in the European gig economy: research results from the UK, Sweden, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy.
Lehdonvirta, V., 2016. Algorithms that divide and unite: delocalisation, identity and collective action in ‘Microwork’. In Space, place and global digital work (pp. 53-80). Palgrave Macmillan, London.
Shapiro, A., 2018. Between autonomy and control: Strategies of arbitrage in the “on-demand” economy. new media & society, 20(8), pp.2954-2971.
Wood, A.J., Graham, M., Lehdonvirta, V. and Hjorth, I., 2019. Good gig, bad gig: autonomy and algorithmic control in the global gig economy. Work, Employment and Society, 33(1), pp.56-75.
Wood, A.J., Lehdonvirta, V. and Graham, M., 2018. Workers of the Internet unite? Online freelancer organisation among remote gig economy workers in six Asian and African countries. New Technology, Work and Employment, 33(2), pp.95-112.
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