Navigating Challenges in the Intersection of Migration and Platform Work: Its influence over collectivisation struggles among the platform workers in Italy

by Padmini Sharma, PhD graduate from Universita Degli Studi di Milano, Italy.

4 min read

The platform-based models are eliminating barriers that have historically constrained labour force participation, particularly among disadvantaged groups.Indeed, these models are growing at the margins of cheap labour in large cities, constituting an indispensable component of the migration infrastructure, especially in the utilisation of cost-effective labour. In the Italian context, within platform-to-consumer food delivery services, more than half of the labour force comprises migrant workers originating from Central and Southern Asia, as well as West Africa. This nexus has provided an avenue for economic participation fostering economic inclusion among migrant workers, a non-biased working environment, and an adaptive work landscape for individuals. Indeed, it has offered unprecedented opportunities for transnational labour engagement, especially in respect to refugees and people from forced displacements.

there are thousands of riders…so when it comes to strikes and protests, there are different opinions… we make friends…but then there is no such strong bonding among the workers…even when we come from the same country, we do not agree over certain matters” Delivery worker from Milan

Nonetheless, this intersection has exerted substantial pressure on existing working conditions due to an unregulated labour force expansion that exceeds the actual demand in the market. Indeed, this demographic exhibit diverse, including conflicting, perspectives based on variations in cultural, socioeconomic, and linguistic backgrounds, including long-term vocational objectives among individuals. Moreover, the crises, unemployment, and inequalities prevailing in home countries assume a decisive role in influencing the choices and actions of the workers. Thus, in addition to the platforms exploiting these gaps to engage in precarious working practices, such fragmentation within the working class poses substantial challenges in forming cohesive collective movements. Furthermore, legal restrictions and immigration status in host countries often limits their room to bargain or advocate their rights on a collective basis without fearing reprisal.

Although the recent directive on platform work does not address the diverse array of issues migrant workers encounter in platform models; however, it holds the potential to create a more inclusive and equitable environment for migrants engaging in platform-based work and accessing platform services within the European Union. One crucial aspect is the regulation of algorithmic management, which aims to ensure that workers are adequately informed about the monitoring and decision-making systems that concerns their recruitment, working conditions, or termination. This serves as a crucial measure to mitigate the growing individualism among migrant workers, who often refrain from collective action due to fears of arbitrary dismissal by platforms. Consequently, as the directive affirms the workers’ right to request review or challenge such automated decisions, it has the potential to catalyse a significant shift in the collective organising efforts among migrant workers.

Nonetheless, considering this as a starting point, it is essential for policymakers to consider the specific needs and vulnerabilities of migrants when designing and implementing regulations and initiatives related to platform economies. This can be addressed through the concerned authorities supporting emerging efforts among platform workers to form cooperatives or unions by extending resources and legal protections. Secondly, promoting cross-border collaboration through policies that facilitate information exchange among countries regarding the workers. Thirdly, it can also encourage social dialogue between the migrant workers, migrant associations and networks, informal labour support networks, and policymakers to foster understanding and collaboration. Thus, nurturing an inclusive and equitable environment for migrant platform workers mandates formulating well-informed, adaptive, and globally collaborative policies that reflect the evolving landscape of work in the digital age.

About the Author

Padmini Sharma holds a Ph.D. in Economic Sociology and Labour Studies (2023) from Universita Degli Studi di Milano. Her research focuses on analysing the impact of digital technologies on work, particularly within digital platforms.

Technology, Employment and Wellbeing is a new FES blog that offers original insights on the ways new technologies impact the world of work. The blog focuses on bringing different views from tech practitioners, academic researchers, trade union representatives and policy makers.

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