18-20 August 2022

Platform Work, Social Risks and Social Welfare: A Study on Workers’ Experiences and Views in Hong Kong

Cham Kit Ming, Tat Chor Au-Yeung and Anna Tsui

Abstract:  Working Conditions of Grassroot Platform Labour in Hong Kong

Based on 78 in-depth interviews with platform food delivery, goods delivery and care workers, and a survey targeting the same group that received 274 valid responses and two focus groups targeting ethnic minority and local food delivery workers, this study found that platform food delivery and care work sector showed signs of existence of false self-employment, and that goods delivery sector is more akin to independent self-employment. This research also highlights the important distinction between those taking platform work as a primary income source or part of their multiple income sources – the former showed stronger demand for labour protection. Drawing on the social risk thesis, our findings suggest that Hong Kong food delivery and courier platform workers experienced six types of work-related risks and are mostly excluded from the social and labour protection system. They result from workers’ disadvantaged positions in the individual, organisational, and institutional levels’ power asymmetry. The algorithmic control by the platform firms and the dependence of workers on platform work are the respective sources of the organisational and individual level power asymmetry, and both are rooted in the absence of employee status in the institutional setting. Second, platform workers’ individualism and pragmatic concerns are explained from an institutional perspective. The absence of social and labour protection system limits state assistance for workers’ work-related risks. Pursuing work freedom is an instrumental concern for workers to initiate individualised risk coping strategies. Third, based on the findings and discussion, three policy implications related to workers’ status, the basis of the social and labour protection system, and the possibility of workers collectively bargaining with platforms are outlined. To sum up, this research brings two contributions to platform work and welfare state studies. First, platform work is linked to the studies of social risks. Second, workers’ experiences and preferences are found to be bounded by the particular structural and institutional context.


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