T2-WS1: Workshop: Improving conditions of platform workers in Europe

6 September 2019, 16:45–18:15
7 September 2019, 09:00–10:30

Chair: Stefan Lücking

Markus Ellmer, University of Salzburg
Thomas Gegenhuber, Leuphana University of Lüneburg
Dominik Klaus, University of Vienna
Stefan Lücking, Hans-Böckler-Foundation

Workshop: Improving conditions of platform workers in Europe


  • Markus Ellmer, University of Salzburg
  • Thomas Gegenhuber, Leuphana University of Lüneburg
  • Dominik Klaus, University of Vienna
  • Stefan Lücking, Hans-Böckler-Foundation

In today’s world of work, platforms have become central entities in facilitating new forms of work organization (Hinings, Gegenhuber, & Greenwood, 2018; Kenney & Zysman, 2016; Srnicek, 2017). Labels such as Amazon Mechanical Turk or Upwork are well-known in the broader public by now; in every major town Uber/Lyft drivers or the colourful cubes on the backs of food couriers are integral part of the urban landscape.

While the majority of academic literature and public debate on platform work is concerned with the question how digital work platforms can create business value, extant research shows that the balances of power between clients, platforms and platform workers are substantially imbalanced, often resulting in bad working conditions for platform workers (Berg, Furrer, Harmon, Rani, & Silberman, 2018; De Stefano, 2016; Ellmer, 2015; Herr, 2018; Irani & Silberman, 2013; Schörpf, Flecker, & Schönauer, 2017). As a consequence, platforms workers, activists, unions, regulatory bodies, media outlets and scholars increasingly gain attention for debating the consequences of platform work for workers and society. Emerging academic discussions are accompanied by numerous of actions and protests against platforms, organized by platform workers and unions (Johnston & Land-Kazlauskas, 2018; Vandaele, 2018), baring whiteness of the need to rebalance power on work platforms.

These on-going controversies in platform work indicate critical changes of institutions, actors and practices of labour relations, resulting in a general need to synthesize and extend existing knowledge about ways how platform workers, unions and regulators aim at improving the conditions in different forms of platform work. This workshop aims at increasing knowledge about these issues and invites contributions dealing with the following topics:

Ongoing debates in platform work:

  • Terms, definitions and typologies: How can we capture and understand the phenomenon?
  • Relevance and diffusion: Reliable data on the phenomenon of crowd work is scarce. How relevant is the phenomenon in which areas and for whom?
  • Worker motivations: Why do workers participate? How do motivations differ across several platforms? How are these motivation embedded in the workers’ biography, current life situation and socio-economic status?

Working conditions in platform work:

  • Responsibilities and roles of platforms in shaping platform work: How do platforms and their digital infrastructures shape the working conditions?
  • Approaches for improving platform worker’s conditions at different levels (worker, platform and regulatory level): How can platforms improve their working conditions and give voice to their workers? How can regulatory instruments improve work conditions? How can unions operate and organize in these environments?


  • Berg, J., Furrer, M., Harmon, E., Rani, U., & Silberman, M. S. (2018). Digital labour platforms and the future of work: Towards decent work in the online world. Geneva.
  • De Stefano, V. (2016). The rise of the "just-in-time workforce": On-demand work, crowd work and labor protection in the "gig economy". Comparative Labor Law & Policy Journal, 37, 471–504.
  • Ellmer, M. (2015). The digital division of labor: Socially constructed design patterns of Amazon Mechanical Turk and the governing of human computation labor. Momentum Quarterly, 4, 174–186.
  • Herr, B. (2018). Ausgeliefert: Fahrräder, Apps und die neue Art der Essenszustellung. Wien: ÖGB Verlag.
  • Hinings, B., Gegenhuber, T., & Greenwood, R. (2018). Digital innovation and transformation: An institutional perspective. Information and Organization, 28, 52–61.
  • Irani, L., & Silberman, M. S. (2013). Turkopticon: Interrupting worker invisibility in Amazon Mechanical Turk. CHI 13 Proceedings, 611–620.
  • Johnston, H., & Land-Kazlauskas, C. (2018). Organizing on-demand: Representation, voice, and collective bargaining in the gig economy (Conditions of work and employement series No. 94). Geneva.
  • Kenney, M., & Zysman, J. (2016). The rise of the platform economy. Issues in Science and Technology, 32, 61–69.
  • Schörpf, P., Flecker, J., & Schönauer, A. (2017). On call for one’s online reputation - control and time in creative crowdwork. In Briken, K., Chillas, S., Krzywdzinski, M., Marks, A. (Ed.), The new digital workplace: How new technologies revolutionise work (pp. 89–111). London: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Srnicek, N. (2017). Platform capitalism. Theory redux.
  • Vandaele, K. (2018). Will trade unions survive in the platform economy?: Emerging patterns of platform workers’ collective voice and representation in Europe (Working Paper No. 2018.05). Brussels.


Platform workers centre stage!

Taking stock of current debates on improving the conditions of platform work in Europe

Markus Ellmer, University of Salzburg
Thomas Gegenhuber, Leuphana University of Lüneburg
Dominik Klaus, University of Vienna

This paper takes stock of current literature on platform work in Europe, discerns central debates and synthesizes knowledge on approaches for improving platform worker’s conditions at different levels (worker, plat-form and regulatory level).

Enabling and control

Algorithmic coordination in the platform-based gig economy

Jan-Felix Schrape, University of Stuttgart and University of Hohenheim
Jasmin Schreyer, University of Stuttgart

The talk explores the potentials and challenges of digital platforms and algorithmic management in the coordination of labour. First, we outline the general organizational structures and operational patterns of platform-based enterprises. Subsequently, we elaborate on the currently observable dynamics and implications of algorithm-driven labour coordination in the so-called gig economy.

Sharing the liberal utopia

The case of Uber in France and the US

Katarzyna Gruszka, WU Vienna University of Economics and Business

We take the case of Uber, a global platform providing transport technologies, as an example of the spreading platform capitalism, analysed from a Hayekian and Polanyian perspectives. We present a chronology of the regulation struggles in the US and France, using Uber´s self-description and web discourse for illustrative purposes.

Creativity, cooperation and conflict in the platform economy in Western Europe

Little new under the sun

Kurt Vandaele, European Trade Union Institute (ETUI)

Via a non-exhaustive mapping of various examples in Western European countries, this paper develops the argument that the rise of the platform economy is an opportunity for organizational creativity or experimentation for providing representation and voice to different categories of ‘platform workers’.

Limits of the platform economy

Digitalisation and marketisation in live music

Dario Azzellini, Cornell University

The paper discusses the failure of online platforms for live music in Germany and the UK. We find that, as the degree of digitalization increases, matching services tend to work less as a workers’ representative but more as force of marketisation that disciplines workers by orchestrating price-based competition.

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