Labour markets are in the midst of a dramatic transformation. Standard employment is increasingly supplemented and substituted by temporary gig work mediated by online platforms. The iLabour research project at the Oxford Internet Institute examines the social, organizational, and policy implications of this shift. The project is funded by the European Research Council and led by Professor Vili Lehdonvirta.

Today, enterprises from small to large use online labour platforms to access workers with specialized skills and to seek flexibility and cost savings. Dozens of platforms have emerged to cater to different types of work, ranging from small microtasks to complex technical projects and professional services. Tens of millions of workers are thought to have sought work through these online platforms, and for many the earnings obtained through them now form their main source of income. The iLabour project approaches the phenomenon through three work packages: measuring, organising, and having a voice in the online gig economy.

Measuring the online gig economy

The first work package of the project is concerned with measuring the online gig economy. Conventional labour market statistics are largely failing to measure online gig work. To address this problem, we have created the Online Labour Index (OLI), a new economic indicator that provides an equivalent of conventional labour market statistics for the online gig economy. By tracking the utilization of online labour across different countries and occupations in real time, the OLI provides a solid evidence base for policy, research, and investment. The work package is currently led by Dr Fabian Stephany, a computational social scientist.

Organising in the online gig economy

The second work package examines organising in the online gig economy. Conventional labour markets are managed by policy makers and shaped by employment laws, collective bargaining, and local norms. But in the online gig economy, platform developers make important decisions on matters ranging from minimum wages to matching. We study the organisational processes through which platform developers decide upon the features and design of their platforms. We also examine the changes that client organisations make to their strategies and organisational processes when transitioning to the ‘new world of work’ in the online gig economy. The work package is led by Dr Gretta Corporaal, an organisational sociologist.

Workers’ voice in the online gig economy

The third work package is concerned with workers’ voice in the online gig economy. We examine ways in which both traditional labour market organizations and novel online worker initiatives attempt to voice workers’ viewpoints, and with what effects. This work package is led by Dr Alex J. Wood, a labour sociologist.