The Potential for International Regulation of Gig Economy Issues

Tonia Novitz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
182 Downloads (Pure)


The rapidly increasing hire of labour through platforms or ‘apps’ has attracted considerable attention. Most current debates focus on whether those engaged in ‘gig economy’ work can be characterised as ‘employees’ or ‘workers’, such that they can claim access to working time protections and the national minimum wage. Other concerns have been whether gig workers can access collective bargaining, but also the ways in which gig work can entail forms of indirect discrimination on grounds of sex (and age), including that instantiated through the ‘algorithms’ which determine ratings and thereby access to work. So, we are witnessing a flood of litigation taking place at the national level, some of which has been conducive to protection of employment rights for gig workers, but not inevitably so.

We could continue in this vein, seeking ad hoc solutions at the domestic level. However, as national labour markets seem to be transforming in a common direction, this article considers whether internationally set labour standards could be of assistance by providing overarching guidance.

The case for international regulation is examined in the following stages. The next (namely the second) part of this article explores three practical transnational aspects of gig economy work, which illustrate how the problems posed by gig work are not merely domestic in their form or nature. The article then examines the argument for international labour standards from a global perspective, rather than emerging regional (including EU) policy positions.

The third part of the article does so from a position of universality, citing the claims of gig workers to human rights protections, alongside a desire to set global terms for fair trade which include prevention of labour exploitation, potentially with reference to International Labour Organisation (ILO) core labour standards. There is also the possibility to embrace in this context a broader idea of ‘decent work’ in sustainability terms and ‘responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels’ as envisaged by the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Global concern with precarious work is relevant here as well as the first nascent steps towards general forms of regulation at the ILO.

The fourth part of this article considers gig work, not only from the perspective of universal concerns with human rights, fair trade and sustainability, but as raising particular concerns which might best be tackled in a ‘sui generis’ instrument. This could be, for example, an ILO Convention or Recommendation devoted specifically to gig economy issues, which poses questions as to its potential regulatory content and effect. Another possibility may be transnational collective bargaining undertaken by Global Union Federations (GUFs) with multinational enterprises (MNEs). Here the experience of negotiating, concluding and enforcing international or, as they are more often termed, ‘global framework agreements’ (GFAs) is relevant. Via this means, it may be possible to address the specificities of certain types of gig work in which a corporation’s business engages. This does, however, require for its efficacy basic recognition of entitlement to collective bargaining for gig work at all levels.

There remain, of course, dangers in international legal norm setting in the gig field. There is the potential through formalization to merely endorse and reinforce the legitimacy of emerging exploitative practices, rather than correct these. There is also, linked to this, the issue of the power dynamics within tripartite organisations like the ILO and in transnational collective bargaining, which suggest that norms may be skewed in favour of corporate (as opposed to worker) interests. There is therefore scope for further (structural) research to consider the scope for realization of a feasible transnational regulatory regime, which does not fall prey to these obvious potential pitfalls.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages13
JournalKing's Law Journal
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jul 2020
EventCentre for Law at Work gig economy workshop - University of Bristol, Bristol, United Kingdom
Duration: 5 Apr 2019 → …

Structured keywords

  • Perspectives on Work
  • LAW Centre for Law at Work
  • LAW Centre for Global Law and Innovation


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