Executive summary

Work mediated by online platforms is one of the (growing) types of non-standard work that raises several policy challenges. While digital platform employment and work activities may be attractive to some workers as they constitute additional sources of income and generally display flexible working conditions, they also raise issues in terms of their quality, and of the legal rights and work protections available to workers engaged in them. Major concerns about digital platform employment relate to ensuring job and income security, access to social protection, career development, training, rights to collective bargaining, protection against algorithmic discrimination and opaque management practices, increased risk of job strain including mental health impacts, as well as concerns about tax avoidance, distortions to product market competition, social dumping and “race-to-the-bottom” practices.

Policy makers in many OECD countries have recognised these problems and are taking steps to improve the working conditions of platform workers. Meanwhile, statisticians are grappling with the challenge of adapting their statistical standards and tools to measure the number and characteristics of these jobs. The paucity of information about the prevalence of platform work, and the characteristics of the individuals engaged in it, risks hindering the development of adequate policies. While existing labour force and other household surveys provide valuable information on self-employment, fixed-term and part-time work, they have not succeeded in identifying platform workers appropriately, and other types of statistical sources, such as ad hoc surveys as well as data directly provided by platforms, can provide much needed information.

In absence of any internationally agreed terminology and standard definition on digital platform work, a key difficulty faced by statisticians has been to properly define the nature and scope of this type of work and employment. An important contribution of this Handbook is to offer a general conceptual framework and a definition of digital platform employment and work that account for the variety of types of digital platforms, with the aim to harmonise statistical practice across OECD countries. Based on the definition of work provided by Resolution I of the 19th International Conference of Labour Statisticians (ICLS), digital platform work is formally defined as:

any productive activity performed by persons to produce goods or provide services carried out through or on a digital platform, AND:

- the digital platform or a phone app controls and/or organizes essential aspects of the activities, such as the access to clients, the evaluation of the activities carried out, the tools needed for conducting the work, the facilitation of payments, distribution and prioritization of the work to be conducted; and

- the work is for at least one hour in the reference period.

This definition is broad and includes different forms of digital platform work, including digital platform work for own-use, digital platform employment, digital platform unpaid trainee work, digital platform volunteer work and other work activities carried out on or through a digital platform. Moreover, this definition emphasises the notion of control and organisation by the platform, which is essential to disentangle digital platform work and other type of work taking place via a platform. For example, a customer and a service provider exchanging via Teams or Zoom does not constitute digital platform work, as these two communication platforms do not offer integral services like ratings of participants, payments and matching of the two parties. In practice, this Handbook helps identify the key features of digital platform employment and work that statisticians should bear in mind when designing their research objectives and operational protocol.

The Handbook reviews the main statistical vehicles used for measuring digital platform employment, and discusses their pros and cons. Labour Force Surveys are best placed to give accurate and robust estimates on the overall prevalence of digital platform employment, although problems of sample size reduce their suitability for gaining insights on the characteristics of digital platform workers. Other sources such as ad hoc surveys, household surveys covering different issues, administrative datasets or big data, provide a useful complement to LFS. Overall, these various survey vehicles serve different purposes, with each of them having its own strengths and weaknesses. The choice of method depends on the research objectives, the available resources and the trade-offs faced by statistical agencies or researchers.

Finally, the Handbook reviews previous statistical initiatives by National Statistical Offices through the lens of its conceptual framework. Statistical recommendations are derived from this stock-taking exercise. Some general recommendations concern the use of clear definitions for digital platform employment and work during the design of the survey, the practical identification of digital platform workers with the help of filter questions that limit the cognitive burden put on survey respondents, the documentation of the number of jobs and frequency of digital platform employment, and the role of governments in the advancement of this statistical agenda. More specific recommendations concern the design and use of labour force surveys, business surveys, ad hoc surveys, big data and data from digital platforms.

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