[UK] Microworking leaves young educated workers powerless

[UK] Microworking leaves young educated workers powerless
02 Sep 2022

Microwork is now an established part of the UK employment landscape. Microworking involves the assignment of short digital tasks to workers, who are then paid piece wages via online platforms. The Guardian takes a closer look at the phenomenon.

In 2021, almost one in eight workers in the UK “won” the right to perform digital tasks remotely in 2021 by bidding for jobs on the web. According to the TUC, the proportion of the working population being paid for these digital tasks at least once a week has more than doubled since 2016. 

However, nearly two in three microworkers – many with degrees – reportedly earn less than £4 an hour. A figure that is not only below the minimum wage, but also less than a quarter of the median graduate starting salary.

The demand for microwork has increased with the rise of AI, which requires human input to nudge computers in the right direction. Big tech companies employ, often anonymously through platforms, a workforce to control quality and train AI. This type of employment boomed in the wake of the pandemic.

Many who lost their jobs or their income during lockdown ended up getting work that only needed an internet connection. Now, UK-based workers needing to boost their income at a time of double-digit inflation consider microwork a 'necessary side hustle’.

The thinktank Autonomy cautions that these unregulated models of employment are exploitative; unsurprising when it is noted that half of the global workforce competing for these jobs is found in just three developing nations: India, Pakistan and Bangladesh

Academics Phil Jones and James Muldoon found that one in five of the workers interviewed relied on this precarious form of labour. A typical microwork day might consist of 30 or 40 tasks for different platforms, each lasting between 30 seconds and 20 minutes.

The microworkforce is largely hidden, however, Autonomy’s report suggests that in the UK these workers are young and well-educated, with more than 60 per cent having at least a degree. Some workers like the flexibility of microwork but the thinktank warns that many are “stressed [and] burnt out” by the constant hunt for tasks. Under the claims of freedom is the reality that the platforms exercise firm control over most aspects of how, and to what standard, work is done. Workers have no recourse if a platform refuses to pay out.

Microworkers are left defenceless because employment rights were established in a legal system designed in and for another time. Currently, there are three categories of employment status in the UK: employee, worker and independent contractor. The first category is the only one entitled to full employment rights, including redundancy payments, parental leave and protection against unfair dismissal. 

Digital platforms – such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, the first established – assume their hires are contractors. Autonomy suggests changing the law so that they are treated as workers, paid a minimum wage and given paid holidays. It also advocates a universal workers’ rights programme – including rights to childcare and to disconnect.

This would be welcome but The Guardian suggests that a shift in political thinking is needed first. It says labour rights are, wrongly, seen, as a constraint on the efficiency of businesses. Studies show that higher trade union membership leads to higher productivity. Policymakers have spent decades freeing employers from their responsibility to workers while making workers more dependent on employers. 

Feelings of powerlessness fuelled working-class anger during the last decade now a class of underemployed underpaid workers is being formed, with working conditions overseen by extractive technologies. If this is allowed to continue unchecked, we can expect a dark future for the world of work.


Source: The Guardian

(Links via original reporting)

Microwork is now an established part of the UK employment landscape. Microworking involves the assignment of short digital tasks to workers, who are then paid piece wages via online platforms. The Guardian takes a closer look at the phenomenon.

In 2021, almost one in eight workers in the UK “won” the right to perform digital tasks remotely in 2021 by bidding for jobs on the web. According to the TUC, the proportion of the working population being paid for these digital tasks at least once a week has more than doubled since 2016. 

However, nearly two in three microworkers – many with degrees – reportedly earn less than £4 an hour. A figure that is not only below the minimum wage, but also less than a quarter of the median graduate starting salary.

The demand for microwork has increased with the rise of AI, which requires human input to nudge computers in the right direction. Big tech companies employ, often anonymously through platforms, a workforce to control quality and train AI. This type of employment boomed in the wake of the pandemic.

Many who lost their jobs or their income during lockdown ended up getting work that only needed an internet connection. Now, UK-based workers needing to boost their income at a time of double-digit inflation consider microwork a 'necessary side hustle’.

The thinktank Autonomy cautions that these unregulated models of employment are exploitative; unsurprising when it is noted that half of the global workforce competing for these jobs is found in just three developing nations: India, Pakistan and Bangladesh

Academics Phil Jones and James Muldoon found that one in five of the workers interviewed relied on this precarious form of labour. A typical microwork day might consist of 30 or 40 tasks for different platforms, each lasting between 30 seconds and 20 minutes.

The microworkforce is largely hidden, however, Autonomy’s report suggests that in the UK these workers are young and well-educated, with more than 60 per cent having at least a degree. Some workers like the flexibility of microwork but the thinktank warns that many are “stressed [and] burnt out” by the constant hunt for tasks. Under the claims of freedom is the reality that the platforms exercise firm control over most aspects of how, and to what standard, work is done. Workers have no recourse if a platform refuses to pay out.

Microworkers are left defenceless because employment rights were established in a legal system designed in and for another time. Currently, there are three categories of employment status in the UK: employee, worker and independent contractor. The first category is the only one entitled to full employment rights, including redundancy payments, parental leave and protection against unfair dismissal. 

Digital platforms – such as Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, the first established – assume their hires are contractors. Autonomy suggests changing the law so that they are treated as workers, paid a minimum wage and given paid holidays. It also advocates a universal workers’ rights programme – including rights to childcare and to disconnect.

This would be welcome but The Guardian suggests that a shift in political thinking is needed first. It says labour rights are, wrongly, seen, as a constraint on the efficiency of businesses. Studies show that higher trade union membership leads to higher productivity. Policymakers have spent decades freeing employers from their responsibility to workers while making workers more dependent on employers. 

Feelings of powerlessness fuelled working-class anger during the last decade now a class of underemployed underpaid workers is being formed, with working conditions overseen by extractive technologies. If this is allowed to continue unchecked, we can expect a dark future for the world of work.


Source: The Guardian

(Links via original reporting)

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