World Bank Report Highlights Rapid Growth in Online Gig Work, but Flags Insufficient Job Protection
A World Bank report released on Thursday highlights the rapid global growth of online gig work, particularly in developing countries. This form of employment has become a vital source of income, particularly for women and young people in economically disadvantaged regions where job opportunities are limited.
According to the report, the global number of online gig workers is estimated to be as high as 435 million people, with demand for such work surging by 41% between 2016 and the first quarter of 2023. While this growth is seen as a positive development for job creation, it has raised concerns among labor rights advocates regarding the inadequate job protections in the gig economy. Many gig workers experience job insecurity and lack the employment rights and social protections afforded to traditional workers.
Unlike location-based gig services such as Uber, Lyft, and TaskRabbit, which often involve physical tasks like transportation and delivery, online gig work can be predominantly carried out from home. These tasks encompass activities like image tagging, data entry, website design, and software development. For women in developing countries, where access to quality employment opportunities is limited by household responsibilities and constraints, online gig work provides an alternative means of participating in the labor market. The report notes that approximately 90% of the workforce in low-income countries operates in the informal sector.
Worker advocates stress the precarious nature of gig work, emphasizing the lack of job security, accountability from employers, and essential social protections such as health and retirement benefits. They call for the development and prioritization of good jobs with basic minimum wage and labor standards, arguing that these principles are universal values regardless of the economic conditions in developing countries.
The report also reveals that social insurance coverage is generally low among gig workers worldwide. Approximately half of surveyed gig workers did not have a retirement plan, with even higher percentages (up to 73% in Venezuela and 75% in Nigeria) lacking any savings for retirement. While some argue that online gigs, even without social protections, offer better economic prospects than no job options for many workers in developing nations, critics point out that the lack of basic protections tilts the balance in favor of gig platforms rather than workers.
In the United States, gig work, both online and onsite, represents a growing segment of the workforce, leading to ongoing debates about worker rights on these platforms. A 2021 Pew Research study revealed that 16% of U.S. adults had earned money through online gig platforms, with the figure rising to 30% among individuals aged 18 to 29. Ride-sharing and delivery companies such as Uber, Lyft, and Grubhub have faced numerous lawsuits related to issues like minimum wage, employment classification, and allegations of sexual harassment.