‘Gender inequality – Now available on digital platform’

An interplay between gender equality and gig economy in the European Union

Neha Vyas, Goethe University Frankfurt

Women are sometimes compelled to accept precarious work because they have to cater to the unpaid care work which stems from family obligations.  Precarious work which includes part time work, agency work, etc. is more prevalent amongst women, by default, than it is among men. There are a lot of issues faced by non standard employment/ atypical work workers as compared to workers in full time/standard employment and since women are more likely to accept such employment it is more gendered in nature. There is a need to look into the labour law policy through a feminist perspective not only to improve the conditions of women in non standard employment but moving from precarious work to full time work by making work conditions suitable for women.

Gig economy might be the necessary solution for women who can possibly transition from unemployment to employment without disturbing the male breadwinner –female care giver model. Women, especially from the urban, educated and skilled background; are rapidly resorting to the online platforms for work instead of the full time employment. There might be various reasons for accepting such employment but the reality remains that such employment is classified as atypical work thereby making it precarious in nature.  The problems faced by precarious workers, mostly women, are still at large irrespective of the platform of work. Therefore, it is imperative to regulate such precarious work in the gig economy as well.

The evolution of work from the traditional platform to the digital platform also calls for a diversification in the legislation, especially laws related to labour protection. Moreover, it has become important to understand the relationship between gig economy and gender which is still at a nascent stage. Policymakers all over the world are still trying to determine the status to be attributed to the employees working in the gig economy. This question regarding the categorization, in itself is posing a lot of questions in various jurisdictions, including the European Union. The European Union has already initiated the work to accommodate the social protection for gig economy workers to comply with the European pillar of social rights. Despite of this, it shall be understood that social protection in most of the European member nations focuses immensely towards full time workers or full time open ended contracts. Therefore, when it comes to social protection of women in the labour market, they end up facing three layered discrimination namely, gender, interracial and precarious nature of the work.

Some employers might deliberately adopt the technique of hiring women on contract basis as gig workers just so that they can avoid the hassle of putting mechanisms into place relating to anti discrimination or  just because of their inability to tolerate or allocate various benefits or they need to comply with while hiring female workers. Therefore, “the Switch,” from the traditional to digital platform, should be the choice of the woman and not the last resort due to the lack of proper redressal mechanisms by the company.

There is also a need to look into the aspect of gender pay gap. The question of gender pay gap is still at large even on the traditional platform and would now be transmitted to digital platform. There is a possibility that women workers can fare better on the digital platform but the profiling of the workers, takes into consideration the gender and age of the workers, which might lead to inherent gender discrimination. Despite of anonymity, there are certain male dominated services and advanced technological services for which women are not preferred. This leads to discrimination on the digital platform and makes women vulnerable, thereby bringing stagnation in the position of women when it comes to pay gap based on gender.

Furthermore, even if the woman chooses to work on the digital platform, it puts her on lower pedestal for promotion. Given the uncertainty of gig economy, position of women working on such platform is at par with the other precarious workers in the traditional platform. Therefore, when it comes to promotion or increase in remuneration or any other improvement in the conditions of the women workers, they would be devoid of such benefits thereby leading to fewer women at the top level management. As it is, the number of women at the management level all over the world is less; this issue will also remain unresolved if correct mechanisms are not put in place. Therefore, even the question related to glass ceiling remains unanswered.

Zero hour contracts, contractual employment etc. are mostly taken up by the vulnerable sections of the society, meaning young women or students, which generally go by the norm of hire and fire policies with no guarantee of absorption into the full time employment. This makes their jobs precarious in nature. For this reason, European Commission should formulate a policy which lessens the element of uncertainty by providing them with required protection in the labour market.

The methodology for the paper shall be doctrinal and the approach shall be analytical in nature with the focus on European Union as a jurisdictional aspect. This paper shall analyse various issues relating to gender in light of the emerging trend of gig economy. Moreover, there shall be an analysis of existing policies on gig economy as far as women employees are concerned, steps taken by the European commission for the same and improvements or changes which can be proposed for the betterment of such policies. The main question, however, to be addressed, in this paper, would be whether “the Switch” from traditional economy to digital economy could be devised in a way beneficial to the women at large in the European Union labour market, thereby striving towards gender equality.

Keywords: Gig economy, Women, European Union, Precarious Employment