How do workers experience social risks in the platform economy? Evidence from Hong Kong

Cham Kit MING (Presenter), Tat Chor AU YEUNG (Presenter), Gizem ARAT (Presenter)

Research output: Other Conference ContributionsPresentation


Platform work is emerging globally as a form of precarious work mediated and monitored digitally under the gig economy. Drawing on new social risk theories, this qualitative research investigates the risks experienced and perceived by workers from food delivery and courier platforms in Hong Kong. A total of 23 platform workers involved in the crowdsourcing gig work platforms were interviewed. Six types of platform work-related risks are mapped, namely fluctuating income, non-regular working hours, low transparency, extra and shifted cost, unexpected injuries and absent compensation, and the inability of future planning. The findings also reveal how workers perceive and make sense of these platform-related risks, which shapes their adaptation to and contestation over platform work. Based on a multi-level mechanism, platform workers’ experiences could be explained by the power asymmetries at the individual, organisational, and institutional levels. The algorithmic control implemented by platforms and workers’ dependence on platform work contributes to the imbalanced power between workers and platforms at the individual and organisational levels. The absence of employee status and the limited platform regulation, along with relatively weak labour organisation, constrains worker’ collective bargaining power against platforms in Hong Kong’s institutional settings. Policy implications are suggested to re-balance the power asymmetries embedded in platform work, while recognising workers’ aspirations about flexibility and choices. This study makes two contributions to social policy studies. First, it links new social risks theories to the gig economy and platform work, expanding the understanding of risk in relation to digital technologies. Second, it furthers the empirical findings on platform work in an East Asian context dominated by a market-productivist welfare model.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 3 Dec 2022
EventHong Kong Sociological Association 23rd Annual Conference: Health and Wellbeing in (Post-) Pandemic Times - Lingnan University, Hong Kong, China
Duration: 3 Dec 20223 Dec 2022
Conference number: 23


ConferenceHong Kong Sociological Association 23rd Annual Conference
CityHong Kong
OtherAs an unprecedented public health crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic has become the focal concern of sociologists around the world. Globally, there have been over six hundred million confirmed cases, including over six million of deaths. Over the past few years, we have experienced the tremendous impacts brought by the pandemic on various domains of life. Apart from infected and death cases, we have seen a surge of mental health issues, suicides, domestic violence, as well as plummeting economic growth and escalating unemployment and poverty rates. Whether to embrace the “new normal” by easing public health and social distancing measures is a contentious issue as much among world leaders as ordinary citizens. From a sociological perspective, most impacts brought by the pandemic are believed to be structural and long lasting. As not everyone has equal access to vaccines, personal protective equipment, healthcare and other resources, health and social inequalities are expected to be worsening. There are also concerns about the lack of affordable childcare and technological equipment for attending online classes during pandemic times, which would have lingering effects on education, digital, and social inequalities across generations.

Against this background, this conference aims to address the pressing issues of health and wellbeing in pandemic and post-pandemic times from a sociological perspective. It provides a platform for scholars, students, and other stakeholders to discuss the implications of the pandemic for health and social inequalities among other issues. On that basis, participants will explore practical and policy responses to enhance health and wellbeing in the (post-)pandemic condition.
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