Unlocking Workers’ Potential through Modern Labour Platforms

June 17, 2021

Unlocking Workers’ Potential through Modern Labour Platforms

Online platforms have enabled people to access new forms of work, opening the door to temporary or non-traditional work schedules. Ridesharing and food delivery are the primary examples. These platforms, however, operate within siloed environments, with the terms set in favour of the platform owner. In some cases, these online platforms are in a race to the bottom, putting the worker at a disadvantage by trying to lower the cost of labour, resulting in lower earning potential for the worker.

In this video, Wingham Rowan explains how we can harness the power of online platforms to benefit the worker and corporation equally; the concept is called “modern markets for all.” Instead of each app maintaining its own database of users and its own terms, governments could provide centralized systems that connect the workforce with employers. These systems could enable a larger pool of talent, provide better benefits to the workers, and monitor for opportunities to optimize the workers’ skills to allow them to access more work opportunities through other government programs and supports. This is not some utopian fantasy, says Wingham — it is commercially and technologically viable.

After watching the video, read more about “modern markets for all” in Wingham’s CIGI policy brief here.

My name’s Wingham Rowan. I ran British government programs that created a new kind of labour platform for all sorts of gig work. That platform has now also been launched by public agencies in California. And for 25 years, I’ve been tracking the development of marketplaces — that’s any exchange where buyers and sellers meet to trade labour, finance, services or other essentials — and I’ve seen a dramatic split emerging.

At the top of the economy — inside these buildings — international financial institutions have built themselves markets that use new technologies to create incredible depth, breadth, actionable data, risk-mitigation tools, proactive opportunity-seeking facilities, and all for the tiniest charges.

These phenomenally powerful new markets underpin financialization — that’s the suck of money out of the mainstream economy into constant selling and reselling of financial assets.

And what about regular people over here? They’re also typically using new platforms to find economic opportunity. But the “markets” they’re using are too often skewed against the sellers.

Uber is the best known of new labour platforms. They’ve been reported cutting worker pay, intentionally misleading the workforce, distorting activity to undermine their competitors and systematically misleading regulators. For this service, Uber charges 30 percent or so of each worker’s earnings — or more.

Uber is not an outlier in today’s labour platforms. We have this astonishing disparity in today’s economies between incredibly powerful markets serving the top tiers and labour platforms serving the base of the economy that are primarily based around cutting labour costs and maximizing advantages for operators.

It’s a tragedy because modern marketplace technologies could do so much for regular people in uncertain times. Imagine a system of markets dedicated to unlocking your full economic potential with streams of data about what skills you could add to your portfolio most profitably. Imagine these markets have new financial functions that they incentivized investment in your development and interventions to support strugglers. And that they did all this for the tiniest overheads.

That’s not some utopian fantasy — it’s commercially and technologically viable. But the private sector can’t do it alone. It requires a policy that we call “modern markets for all.” Read about it in my CIGI policy brief.

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The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.