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Platform work and the “gig economy”: the JRC COLLEEM surveys of digital labour platforms

Digital Labour Platforms match clients with workers in the “gig economy", who are managed through algorithms. The JRC estimates the number and conditions of platform workers in the EU with the COLLEEM and AMPWork surveys, informing EU regulation.

Digital labour platforms are digital networks that use technology, such as software algorithms and data analytics, to connect workers with clients, manage work assignments and transactions, and monitor worker performance.  

Working in digital labour platforms can be provide opportunities to those who face discrimination in traditional labour markets as clients often do not know the worker’s gender, age, education, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. Platform work also allows a high degree of flexibility and autonomy that many may find desirable. As a result, labour platform were initially considered part of the “collaborative economy”. 

However, these benefits come at a cost: firstly, platform workers are in most cases hired as independent contractors, which means that they may not be covered by basic employment rights, including sick or holiday pay, minimum wage, pension rights, even though legislation at the European level is being discussed around this issue. Secondly, the algorithms presiding digital platforms are built on the collection and processing of massive amounts of data, which may pose a threat to workers’ privacy

The JRC-COLLEEM (COLLaborative Economy and EMployment) surveys, launched in 2017 and 2018 respectively, were among the first to estimate the size of the platform economy at the European level, and to analyse the socio-economic profiles and working conditions of platform workers in Europe. The COLLEEM project contributed to a better definition and operationalisation of platform work and provided much-needed evidence on the phenomenon.  

As features of digital labour platforms become common in conventional workplaces, the JRC also monitors the practice of Algorithmic Management

The COLLEEM surveys

In 2017, the JRC conducted the COLLEEM pilot survey, in partnership with the Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG-EMPL). The first pilot wave was completed in 2017 and gathered 32,389 responses from 14 Member States. A second pilot (the COLLEEM 2018 survey) gathered 38,022 responses from internet users aged between 16 and 74 years old in 16 EU Member States: Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Slovakia, Romania, and the United Kingdom. 

Estimates from COLLEEM II revealed that on average 1.4% of the respondents in the surveyed countries in 2018 provide services via digital labour platforms as their main job (main platform workers). According to COLLEEM, the typical platform worker tends to be younger, more educated, and more likely to live in a larger household with dependent children. Platform workers are also more likely to be male and foreign born, especially if performing on-location tasks.  

Policy impact and inter-institutional collaboration

The JRC has worked in close collaboration with other institutions to refine and harmonise the definition of platform work. In particular, the JRC has been part of an international technical expert group, including other EU institutions, such as Eurostat and DG Employment, as well as agencies such as Eurofound and the European Institute for Gender Equality, and the OECD, the ILO, and representatives from National Statistics Institutes.  

The COLLEEM surveys were among the first exercises carried out to estimate the size of the platform economy and to analyse in depth the socio-economic profiles and working conditions of platform workers. Concepts and results from the COLLEEM surveys have been extensively used in the 2021 proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on improving working conditions in platform work (COM(2021) 762).   

Future challenges: from platform work to the platformisation of traditional workplaces

Based on the lessons learned from the COLLEEM surveys, the JRC developed an expanded and improved survey called the Algorithmic Management and Platform Work Survey, conducted between 2021 and 2022.  

Compared to the COLLEEM I and II surveys, the AMPWork questionnaire was substantially extended to include a battery of questions on algorithmic management and (digital) surveillance. The answers to these questions will provide the first robust quantitative evidence on algorithmic management practices and their impact on individual workers. The AMPWork survey is representative of the full working age population in Spain and Germany, and provides measures of the prevalence of digital monitoring and algorithmic management. 

Publications

Contact

JRC-P21-EDU-SKILLS-EMPLatec [dot] europa [dot] eu (JRC-P21-EDU-SKILLS-EMPL[at]ec[dot]europa[dot]eu) 

To find out more about the JRC's work on similar topics, explore the related JRC portfolios: