Kristin Jesnes and Sigurd M. Nordli Oppegaard: Platform work in the Nordic countries and the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis
Chapter in the publication The Future of Work in the Nordic countries: Opportunities and Challenges for the Nordic Working Life Models, published by the Nordic Council of Ministers, 2021
Employers rely on having a variety of non-standard contracts at their disposal. Combined with digitalization, we also see new types of companies and new forms of work emerging. Platform work is the latest development, and can be defined as work that is mediated, coordinated, organized and/or controlled by a digital platform (Jesnes, 2020). The work is characterized by varying working hours and work periods, the worker must provide the equipment needed to do the job, there is no fixed workplace provided by the company, and tasks are mediated by means of digital technology (Stewart and Stanford, 2017). The workers are most often classified as (solo) self-employed by the companies and paid on commission, but this is disputed. Workers, trade unions and scholars (see for instance Prassl 2018) claim that platform companies (i) control pay and other terms and conditions of the work through algorithms and (ii) that some workers are dependent upon such work. The following questions arise: Are platform workers self-employed because they want the flexibility of this form of work? Alternatively, are they self-employed because these companies do not offer an employment contract? And what implications does this have for the platform workers? Self-employed workers carry the risks associated with their business. They do not have the same rights to social protection as employees, and presumably do not have the possibility to organize and collectively demand better pay and working conditions. The latter also challenges one of the trademarks of the highly organized Nordic countries, whereby the social partners to a great extent regulate pay and working conditions through collective agreements.
This chapter presents a summary of the main findings from Pillar IV of the project, where we analyzed the development of platform work in the Nordic countries (Jesnes and Oppegaard, 2020). The empirical material draws on interviews with platform workers, platform companies, trade unions and employer organizations within cleaning, food delivery, transport and translation. In our material, there is a predominance of mediation of work requiring less competence, which also reflects our analysis. First, we review the scope of platform work, working conditions for platform workers, and social partner and government approaches to platform work in the Nordic countries. Thereafter, we explore the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic for platform workers. Platform work emerged in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, and the COVID-19 pandemic might accelerate the scope of platform work, or at least worsen pay and working conditions of platform workers.