FIOH: On-demand work through digital platforms

Food Courier in Helsinki (Source: FIOH)

How workers cope with experiences of unfairness?

The global importance of work via digital platforms is increasing. Platform enterprises manage labor by enabling suppliers and buyers of services to meet in a flexible way, creating new economic efficiencies for all – at least in principle. However, Platform work may also increase invisibility, uncertainty, low pay and competition for workers.

The FIOH research investigates on-demand work through analyzing how freelancers face an unfair organizational situation. Our empirical case is a platform-driven food courier company in the Helsinki region, Finland. The platform company changed its system of sharing out work shifts to freelancing food couriers. The change caused harsh competition among freelancers who used a metaphor of “throwing a bone in the middle of a crowd of dogs” about this change.

The resources used in this unfair situation by freelancers were investigated. They use cognitive resources leaning e.g. on the modern image of the company, or social resources of their colleagues. Importantly, the findings reveal the lack of contractual and regulatory resources in on-demand work. It is legal for the company to reduce freelancers’ rights. Trade unions could not help.

The mechanisms through which unfairness emerges can be explained with immunity, control and fungibility. Immunity means facelessness and invisibility between managers and workers. Control is apparent in performance-based rating and categorization of freelancers. Fungibility allows platform companies keep hiring rates high and labor costs low because there is a surplus population of underemployed gig workers. Despite experienced unfairness, food couriers can have a positive image of their company who support couriers in many ways.

Contact: Laura Seppänen (

More information: Proceedings of the 20th Congress of International Ergonomics Association


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