Gig economy and decent work: new rights to be won for logistics and delivery workers

18/05/2021 | Sustainability


Thousands of pieces of content are shared every May Day on International Labor Day, of which many have in their copy "there is nothing to celebrate."

The pandemic year has been, despite the many measures to support the economy, very critical for employment going to particularly affect specific categories and sectors.

But not always, as in the case of the restaurant industry it was both entrepreneurs and workers who paid. There are sectors that have boomed but have not seen improvements for workers.

In this article we delve into the part of the market that is most contradictory in this respect: the so-called "Gig Economy."

Sustainability: decent work

Goal 8 of Agenda 2030 is to stimulate lasting, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

"Roughly half the world's population still lives on the equivalent of about two dollars a day. In many places, having a job does not guarantee an escape from poverty. This slow and uneven progress requires us to reconsider and reorganize our economic and social policies aimed at poverty eradication" (United Nations Regional Information Center).

Gig economy and decent work

Can gig economy and decent work be talked about in the same sentence?

The gig economy, also called the platform economy, is one of the new forms of organization in the digital economy. It can be defined as an economy characterized by the prevalence of freelance or short-term contract workers.

The most immediate example is surely that of riders, home delivery workers who deliver food and drinks ordered through platforms and web applications created to connect customers and businesses.

The term "gig" originated in jazz music, not an acronym; it was first coined in 1915 by jazz musicians referring to their occasional performances.

When applied to this modern work model, the term 'gig' is almost synonymous with 'project' or 'flexible'. Basically, it emphasizes the unique nature of the job performance that the worker is called upon to perform.

The advent of the gig economy

More and more people are discovering the gig economy as a way to earn money. But how did this exponential growth begin?

After the 2008 financial crisis, many people found themselves unemployed or not fully employed. As a result, the demand for temporary jobs grew exponentially to find new ways to compensate for the loss of income.

Many people found themselves with several part-time or freelance occupations simultaneously or combining a fixed contract with some flexible jobs. The more people became familiar with the gig economy, the more widespread this model became.

In addition, in the midst of the global coronavirus pandemic, gig economy workers have been essential in providing a sense of normalcy and keeping alive services that otherwise would not have survived the crisis, from contactless food and drug deliveries to online education services.

The advantages and disadvantages of the gig economy


  • Simple market accessibility. Anyone can join the gig economy, regardless of their skills;
  • Ability to find the right work-life balance;
  • Flexible work schedules, often with the ability to choose when to work and for how long;
  • Choice of the type of work or projects you want to work on;
  • Opportunities to work anywhere in the world.


  • Flexibility, entered as a hypothetical advantage, is often not a power in the hands of workers as much as in those of employers
  • Have no pension, health insurance, paid sick leave from one's employer.
  • Little job security regarding compensation related to unemployment or termination terms.

The protection of gig economy workers

"Gig economy" workers are considered self-employed and, therefore, the platforms for which they work are not subject to social security contribution obligations.

The systems used by platforms to monitor the quality of performance, through the evaluation made by consumers, may be a source of insecurity for the worker. The rating that consumers give to workers could affect future job opportunities. These rating systems could also expose workers to forms of discrimination for which there is currently no provision for extending the forms of protection under labor law that usually apply to the employment relationship.

The protections afforded to these types of workers have, since the system's inception, been almost nonexistent. A booming industry due to its high degree of high degree of flexibility and autonomy but with difficult avenues for regulation.

Numerous have been and, still are, the struggles of the workers in question to obtain decent work.

The large U.S. giant Amazon is grappling with protests from employees who are subjected to excessive work rhythms given by the company's algorithm.

Amazon in this year has seen its orders and thus its business soar, yet the company has never listened to requests from its workers to renegotiate contracts; it hides a universe of exploitation and violation of labor law whereby even pee time becomes extra, something to be optimized perhaps by resorting to the most classic of plastic bottles.

Appeals to labor unions, demonstrations and strikes have highlighted how this category of workers is an invisible category, how it lacks basic rights, yet achieved some interesting results.

As of March 2021 in Italy, JustEat riders, have been granted a logistics contract. For the unions, they become employees in their own right, having guaranteed basic pay, linked to contractual minimums and not to deliveries, severance pay, social security, wage supplementation in case of illness, accident, maternity/paternity, vacations, guaranteed minimum working hours, surcharges for overtime, overtime, holiday and night work, reimbursement of expenses for use of own vehicle, adequate dpi, also in reference to the current pandemic moment, and union rights.

Good news for Deliveroo workers as well: the Labor Section of the Bologna Court, in a December 31, 2020 ruling, upheld an appeal filed jointly by unions Nidil CGIL, Filcams CGIL and Filt CGIL. The 'Frank' algorithm used by Deliveroo to evaluate riders is "discriminatory," penalizing those who are absent from work by not taking into account their reasons, whether for futile reasons or instead, for example, because they are sick or on strike. This is, says confederal secretary Tania Scacchetti, "an epochal turning point in the conquest of union rights and freedoms in the digital world."

However, it is not quite all resolved: some decisive junctures remain open that we hope will be resolved in favor of the workers within the year.

Nicole Di Salvo

Project Manager | Digital Innovation Days

Federica Berandi

Content Creator Trainee | Digital Innovation Days


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