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The Wage and its Theft via Digital Labour Platforms

Venue: Online

The Responsible Business Centre is pleased to invite you to an online research seminar by Dr Matthew Cole discussing worker exploitation on December 6th at 5-6pm.


This research develops a typology of the wage and its theft in UK platform work. There are millions of platform workers in the UK. Most suffer from low-pay, poor working conditions, uncertain employment status, opaque algorithmic management practices and a lack of collective voice. In addition to the normal obfuscation that occurs in the labour process under capitalism, the legal basis for determining the boundary of work-time is often obscured by the contractual classifications that platforms use. Certain classifications allow platforms to abdicate the normal obligations of an employer, while evading labour market enforcement mechanisms. The consequences of such practices mean platform workers perform more unpaid labour during work-time and suffer wage theft. In this context, two questions arise: What types of unpaid labour occur via digital labour platforms? How do platform policies and practices facilitate this unpaid labour? Drawing on empirical research from the Fairwork project, we examine 15 platforms in the UK to answer these questions. I find that that extant analyses of unpaid labour, in terms of violation of employment law, neglect both the way misclassification functions as a means to steal wages and the systemic dimension of unpaid labour under capitalism. There is also a more speculative dynamic of extraction through certain platforms’ expropriation of workers’ data as it is transformed into an asset.

The study develops a novel typology of unpaid labour and how platform management facilitates this. Wage theft through unpaid work time, training time, waiting time, and travel time, are integral to platform profits as well as the externalisation of costs of production and expropriation of worker data. Finally, I offer some recommendations for closing the regulatory loopholes and preventing worker exploitation.


Dr Matthew Cole is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the Oxford internet Institute and an Associate Fellow at the DIGIT Centre. From January 2023, he will be a Lecturer in Technology, Work and Employment at the University of Sussex. His research spans the political economy of work and employment, industrial relations, and technological change in the labour process. He has been published in Work, Employment and Society, Antipode, Global Networks, and the Socialist Register, among other outlets. 



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