Is 'gig work' exploitative and injust? In this New St Cross Special Ethics Seminar, Daniel Halliday examines the common concerns from an ethical perspective.
Recent advances in communication economy have created new ways for consumers to access service labour. Those who own the platforms associated with these services typically do not employ their workers, but treat them as freelance or 'gig' workers. This has led to a popular complaint that gig work is exploitative or otherwise unjust, and that the platforms need to regulated so that their workers qualify as employees. Many people now boycott the platforms using gig work, or feel uncomfortable about using it. But it is not obvious what the connection is between gig work and injustice or exploitation per se. After all, gig work has always been around in many other forms, and much of it compares favourably with employment in firms. This is not to dismiss the concern that many have with particular kinds of gig work, only to observe that the problem is complicated and calls for more detailed moral theorizing. At bottom, what's needed is a proper theory of what the difference between employment and freelance/gig work is supposed to be, and what moral purpose it serves. This talk will aim to make some progress in this direction.