Toward Fair Work Conditions

In relation to the bigger research project Ward van Zoonen was awarded an Erasmus University Trustfonds grant to investigate the work conditions of crowd workers in Europe. Crowd work represents the hidden human labor that is crucial to meet society’s increasing demand for automation and artificially intelligent solutions. For instance, crowd workers play an important role in categorizing and labeling data and training algorithms. However, crowd work is not without controversy and problems. Academic and societal debates often chronicle the deplorable working conditions for platform workers discussing issues like wage theft, lack of (social) support, and unilateral algorithmic decision making. Interestingly, crowd workers largely operate in the shadows even earning them the soubriquet ‘Ghost Workers.’ In such a hidden environment, digital platforms view human workers as replaceable cogs in the machine, favoring exit rather than voice to resolve concerns. The increasing demand for automation and artificially intelligent solutions coupled with the concerns about the work conditions of a largely invisible group of crowd workers warrants greater attention for their lived work experiences and wellbeing. As such this research project takes on the stirring task of mapping various (un)fair work conditions and identifying the extent to which they impact the experiences and wellbeing of crowd workers in Europe.

In this investigation we will look into different fair work principles. The eight fairwork principles central to our inquiry are pay (Minimum wage, regulation about non-payment), conditions (information about work), contracts (compliance with laws), communication (constructive feedback), management (contestation of work evaluations), governance (transparency), the use of data (access to collected data), and representation (collective representation and bargaining). We will explore whether and how these fair work principles are experienced and with what consequences. The insights generated from this work are not only relevant to our theoretical understanding of work characteristics and wellbeing in new labor forms, but may also form an important impetus for ongoing efforts to develop legislation and regulate digital labor forms in the European economy.