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An overview of categories of vulnerability among on-demand workers in the gig economy (Part 1)

Dina Maria (Denine) Smit
Grey Stopforth


The gig economy has given rise to new forms of work that fall outside the domain of traditional employment. In most jurisdictions, the status of the work  performer needs to fall within the traditional definition of “employee” to guarantee labour law protection and social security, as well as to allow for  collective bargaining. In the digital era, and particularly in a socially distanced world that increasingly uses online services, platforms such as Uber and  DoorDash are established providers of work. Yet their very structure renders their service providers extremely vulnerable. In the 21st century, capital  seemingly seeks to return to basics by paying strictly only for services delivered and passing the bulk of risk to workers on these platforms. This  contribution aims to add to a growing body of evidence on gig work, and gives an overview of categories of vulnerability among on-demand workers,  without focusing on the classification issue. This article is in two parts. Part 1 focuses on the need for job creation in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and  the potential of the gig economy to curb unemployment, particularly among the youth. A brief overview of the different industrial revolutions to date  creates the backdrop for an in-depth look at the gig economy and platform work. The focus then shifts to the vulnerability created by the peculiar  relationship between the three parties involved in on-demand work. This leads to a discussion in part 2 of worker vulnerability, the legal position of  platform work, and the suggested way forward, drawing on International Labour Organization and European Union instruments, with a strong focus on  South Africa, without resolving classification issues