ILPC 2022, 21st to 23rd April Padua

Special Stream 3: The digitalisation of work, the gig economy and migrant labour

Proposed by Francesco Della Puppa (University of Venice, Ca' Foscari Italy), Nicola Montagna (Middlesex University, UK), Phoebe Moore (University of Leicester School of Business, UK), Jamie Woodcock (Open University, UK)

In the last forty years, since the end of organisation of production by the so-called Taylorist-Fordist criteria and the beginning of the neo-liberal revolution, work in the advanced economies has undergone profound transformations. These have been driven by key changes in production and its organisation, such as the increasing externalisation of production phases, along with the consequent – enormous – growth of the service economy, and the rapid development of digital technologies.

More recently, a key role has been played by the development of platform capitalism and the gig economy as a way of organising work and providing services. Some of the most important global companies, such as Uber, Amazon, DoorDash, Care.com, etc. operate in this booming sector, which received a further boost during the Covid-19 pandemic. These companies supply a variety of key services such as ride-hailing, domestic and care work, food delivery, and many others, which are provided by a diverse workforce in terms of gender, nationality, and age, and in very different working conditions. One of the main effects of the expansion of the gig economy has been a further reduction of workplace rights and the growth of precarious labour. While reduced security for workers was already happening because of the financialization of the economy, which counterposed shareholders' and workers' interests, the intrinsic complexity of the service economy and the impact of information technology, the gig economy has accelerated this process.

There are no comprehensive data on the precise number of people employed across this sector and even less on migrant and foreign workers. However, even in countries with high unemployment or with a huge supply of unskilled labour, it is widely documented that migrant workers provide a large share of the labour power behind a range of gig economy services. They constitute a vital infrastructure for these platforms, which can rely on a perpetual influx of migrant workers in sectors such as logistics, deliveries, care, and cleaning, etc. On the one hand, occupations in the gig economy are often degraded, as they imply longer working hours at lower salaries, and therefore find in migrant workers who can fill them. On the other hand, they also offer migrants much-needed income opportunities, particularly for those who lack skills and are not easily employable or those whose legal status is less secure.

While there is growing academic interest in the platform economy, its technological aspects, its business model and working conditions, very little research has focused on the role of migrant labour and its governance at the intersection of labour market regulation, social welfare, international migration and migration policies. Some research has recently focused on struggles in the logistics sector in Italy – mostly engaged in by migrant workers. However, there are still huge gaps in research on how platformmediated gig work impacts the structural vulnerability of migrant workers and how this can be addressed by welfare policies. The aim of this stream is to address some of these issues.

More precisely, we welcome empirical and theoretical papers on themes such as:

  • Migrant workers and digitalised work: quantitative and qualitative aspects
  • Artificial Intelligence and work
  • Digitalisation and work-related policy
  • Digital surveillance
  • Labour struggles in the digitalised service sector
  • Unionism and self-organisation in the gig economy
  • The law of value, production and/or conservation of surplus value in digitalised service work
  • Surplus value, Artificial Intelligence and work: ambivalences and contradictions
  • Social reproduction and the digitalisation of work in the service sector
  • Everyday life of workers in the digitalised service sector

Abstracts should be between 350 and 500 words. Key words should be given that indicate the focus of research and the methods used. The abstract should contain clear information about theoretical orientation, findings, methodology, and what contribution is being made to knowledge. Abstracts of papers that are concerned solely with theoretical or conceptual matters will need to provide clear information on how they address and advance relevant debates. We encourage contributions especially from the Global South.

Abstract submission will open at the start of 1st September 2021 with a deadline of 31st October 2021. Decisions of acceptance will be made by early December 2021.