Over the past few years, the world has started going through a new economic revolution, disrupting the economy, businesses, labour markets and our daily lives in a way not seen since the industrial revolution. Driven by technological innovations and increased online connectivity, the role of digital labour market matching is rising. At the heart of this change is the rise of the platform economy. COVID-19 has only accelerated this revolution.
While the gig economy has been talked about for years, the rise of the economy through digital platforms is relatively new. As the platform economy evolves, there are both new opportunities as well as new challenges that arise with heightened complexity. The current debate on the working conditions of couriers is a case in point.
However, let’s start from the basics. The platform economy is a complex phenomenon that is significantly disrupting the general concept of what is referred to as normal jobs. It is any type of digital platform that uses the internet to connect dispersed networks of individuals to facilitate digital interactions between people.
Within the platform economy there is a triangular relationship between three parties: the platform, the worker and the customer or customers, as in the case of food delivery the customers are both the restaurant owners and the end-user. It is the job of the platform to connect people with demand, the customer/s, to people that provide supply, the worker.
Traditional linear business models create value through offering products and services that are sold to a customer. Platform-based business models, on the other hand, create their value by connecting users, both consumers and producers, on an online network. The platform does not own the means of production but, rather, creates the means of connection.
The platform economy forces us to re-evaluate laws and regulations- Seb Ripard
The strength of the platform economy lies in its ability to eliminate trade barriers by using increased information sharing between different players. This creates a much more open economic system, with much greater participation of its users. And this where the concept of equity comes in.
As with many other technological change and disruption, the platform economy forces us to re-evaluate laws and regulations. There needs to be some sort of regulatory catch-up in terms of laws and regulations, acknowledging that the platform economy is here to stay and will continue to exist. It is here that, as stakeholders, we believe that we should start a national discussion on finding an equitable way forward to ensure that the platform economy can truly deliver value to all of its stakeholders.
Unfortunately, we often talk about platform workers as one big cohort. In reality, there is huge diversity in the type of platform workers. One can differentiate between three main cohorts of workers: first, the primarily dependent worker who fully relies on the earnings of the platform, the partially dependent worker who uses the platform as a part-time job and the supplemental worker who uses the platform to create supplemental earnings.
In addition, the platform economy has also been a very inclusive employment market, giving people the luxury of finding flexibility that suits their lifestyle or commitments.
Given the surge in demand from end-users for delivery services, businesses providing couriers to platform operators have been established. It is here that platform companies like ours do not have visibility of the conditions that these couriers are being subject to. Here too, we want to set the standard to ensure that the platform adds value to each of its stakeholders.
As a company, we are working on a charter that will govern the relationship between courier and agency and we will request that the agencies we work with follow this charter. We believe that these codes of good conduct will support the platform economy into one that is truly equitable for all.
Done right, we can shape a fair future of work. More than ever before, the message for policymakers, employers, workers and their representatives is straightforward: let us together prepare for the next day. The platform economy is here to stay. Let us come together, brainstorm and take action for an equitable platform economy.
Seb Ripard, CEO, TXF Tech, Bolt partners in Malta, Cyprus and Tunisia.