From Social Distancing to Social Solidarity: Gig economy and the Covid-19

By Funda Ustek-Spilda,  Mark Graham, Alessio Bertolini, Srujana Katta, Fabian Ferrari and Kelle Howson – A coalition of researchers at Fairwork – an organisation which studies the work practices and working conditions in the emerging gig economy. Fairwork is based at the Oxford Internet Institute.


This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.


gig-econoy-covid19Social distancing and self-isolation are the policies du jour. At this point, an estimated 1.7 billion people have been asked to remain at home by their governments, whether through a full lock-down or similar measures. As people are required to self-isolate and minimise social contact, using the internet and online platforms has become the safest way to access necessary goods and services. It is therefore not surprising that “gig workers” – workers that digital platforms hire on a per-service (“gig”) basis – have been identified as “key workers” in the fight against Covid-19, be it delivering household necessities or performing services, such as stocking shelves in supermarkets or caring for the elderly or disabled.

Nevertheless, due to the nature of their jobs, gig workers have been identified as the highest risk group as they cannot always ensure keeping a 2 m social distance from their customers. Also, our interviews show that many gig workers live hand to mouth, and they just cannot afford to take time off, whether there is a public health crisis or not. Moreover, some workers have leases and other upfront payments that they have committed to make to the platforms they work for, and they are simply unable to hold off work until they raise what they owe. It is worth noting that the gig economy also relies on workers in developing countries where overall most workers are informal and very often lack safety nets and other forms of protection. In brief, Covid-19 has brought to light a major inequality in the way platform economies are set up: gig workers provide for the key needs of society, yet they do not have access to fair working conditions. Continue reading