SEOUL, Jan. 31 (Korea Bizwire) — As On Demand and Online to Offline service platforms are increasingly replacing taxi, delivery, chauffeur, and other services, many are starting to call on the need to treat On Demand and online-to-offline (O2O) service workers as laborers, instead of private businesses.
However, due to the outdated legislative tradition that still focuses on a factory-based labor system, experts are asking the government to come up with new protective mechanism that can ensure the labor rights of those working for On Demand and O2O service platforms.
“Platforms form a winner-take-all economy that cultivates monopoly, and incurs labor instability and restriction of communication,” said Lee Seong-jong, chairman of the committee for the establishment of Platform Labor Solidarity.
“We need to come up with new industrial, labor, and welfare policy that can bolster the strengths of platform services, while minimizing their shortcomings.”
Platform workers have yet to be defined. Current statistical methods are also unable to measure the size of the platform labor industry.
Only a business researcher McKinsey Global Institute report makes a general estimation that 30 percent of the working population in France, 26 percent in the United States, and 25 percent in Germany work in the platform industry.
In South Korea, the estimation varies between 9 percent and 30 percent.
According to the Korea Employment Information Service, platform laborers (1) work as middlemen between customers and digital platforms, (2) earn a designated amount of income per project that comes at irregular intervals, (3) and work without signing an employment contract.
Based on the definition, chauffeur apps, delivery apps, housework apps, professional service apps (design, accounting, translation, etc.) and other go-between service apps are seen as platforms.
Platform workers can also come in various shapes and sizes –multiple-job holders, part-time workers, and more.
Platform workers, while categorized as private business people, are deprived of price-setting power or the ability to pioneer markets on their own.
They cannot make decisions on the content of the contract, or freely choose contractual partners or the method of carrying out the contract.
They can also be compelled by platforms monopolizing the market to engage in unfair transactions and pay monopolistic prices.
“The future of the digital platform industry relies on answering three important questions,” said Park Jae-seong, a researcher at the Korea Labor Institute.
“The questions are reinterpreting the business concept, customer responsibility, and dependency of the laborer.”
“In a traditional corporate body structure, customers are able to directly hire and make orders, while also carrying the responsibilities. It is clear who the customer is, and who should be responsible for what,” added Park.
“Digital platform laborers, however, should always be on 24/7 standby, and immediately respond to real-time digital signals. Consequently, they become permanently dependent on the platform.”
Even if digital platform workers are endowed with laborer status, it will still be very difficult for them to exercise their right to organize, right to bargain collectively, and right to act collectively.
Strikes held by platform workers will be ineffective, because they can always be replaced in real-time.
“In digital capitalism, there are no institutional mechanism to stop the platform capital from going totalitarian,” said Kim Seong-hyuk, head of the policy research institute of the Korea Federation of Service Workers’ Unions.
“Risks are being outsourced, while platform workers are left without any right as laborers.”
“Something needs to be done at the industrial level. A standard for workforce management, in particular, should be established to prevent platform intermediaries from imposing excessive commissions and penalties on laborers,” added Kim.
“Since it is especially difficult for platform laborers to bargain individually, a negotiating entity comprised of various stakeholders should be established, and outdated labor laws should be amended to go beyond the factory-based labor model.”
H. M. Kang (firstname.lastname@example.org)