Navigation without protection? Gig workers’ views on employment relations and social security in Hong Kong

Tat Chor AU YEUNG, Cham Kit MING

Research output: Other Conference ContributionsPresentation

Abstract

Recent social policy literature suggests that the rise of gig economy poses new challenges on welfare state in terms of social and labour protection. The new forms of work generated in the gig economy are characterised by its on-demand nature and extensively mediated by a set of platforms in varying degrees. On the one hand, the welfare and occupational entitlements of gig workers appear to be jeopardised, resulting from the exclusion based on the ‘independent’ employment status. On the other hand, gig work, as the non-institutionalised or under-regulated activities, may undermine the fiscal bases of welfare state due to reduced contributions and tax revenues, especially for the social insurance schemes. Despite the growing attention to the interplay between social security and freelancing or self-employment in the face of digitisation, how gig workers perceive employment relations and social security remains unknown. To fill this gap, this paper presents the findings of a qualitative study of 24 in-depth interviews with gig workers in Hong Kong (HK) from a variety of sectors. The data reveals that interviewees generally pursued autonomy and flexibility of work and life at the expense of income security and the access to labour protection. While the skilled gig workers from cultural and creative industries considered job precarity as an inevitable trade-off for their engagement in in the fields, the so-called low-skilled gig workers emphasised their complex relationship with the platforms or intermediaries. Arguably, the power asymmetries embedded in the gig economy are shaped by workers’ reliance on platforms. Also, respondents demonstrated a distrust of the mandatory individual saving account as a private pension, driving them to eschew the contributions that were deemed useless. More importantly, some gig workers did not see any key differences between their welfare entitlements and those enjoyed by general employees in HK. It is suggested that policy contexts play a key role in shaping the meaning-making of gig workers about their interests and risks. Two contributions are made by this paper. Firstly, it extends the research on gig workers beyond the contexts of capitalist democracies to the region where social insurance and labour rights are underdeveloped. Secondly, it addresses the ways how gig workers make sense of the institutional arrangements, which are overlooked in the current literature.

Conference

ConferenceThe 17th Annual Conference of the East Asian Social Policy Research Network & The 27th Annual Conference of the Foundation for International Studies on Social Security
Country/TerritoryHong Kong
CityHong Kong
Period2/07/214/07/21
Internet address

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