Towards fair work : Working conditions of grassroot platform labour in Hong Kong

Chris King-Chi CHAN, Tat-Chor AU YEUNG, Wing Yin Anna TSUI, Yu Ting HO

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The digitalisation of the economy in recent decades has created a new form of “platform work” – ‘platform-based employment which uses digital technology to mediate the process of commissioning, supervising, delivering, and compensating work performed by workers on a contingent, piece-work basis’.[1] The prevalence of platform work is now a global phenomenon. Between 2014 and 2016, an estimated 1.5% of the global workforce had been involved in the platform economy.[2] Platform workers are classified as “self-employed” in most countries and do not have any formal employment relationship with the platform companies. Because of their legal status as self-employed persons, platform workers are excluded from legal protections offered to employees like minimum wage, paid leave, and work injury insurance. There are mounting concerns over how platform companies exploit this legal grey area to profit from workers’ labour while avoiding the cost of providing them with statutory labour protections. This form of ‘false self-employment’ is regarded by the International Labour Organization (“ILO”) as “dependent self-employment”.[3]

Although statistics are unavailable, platform work has proliferated in Hong Kong in recent years, following a global trend. For instance, according to Uber, the number of Uber riders in the city grew by nearly 40 times between 2014 and 2019.[4] Given this, the Hong Kong government was asked multiple times to review the existing labour legislation to identify areas for improving protection for platform workers. The Labour Department explained that three significant approaches – enhancing public education, offering consultation or conciliation services for workers, and strengthening inspections and enforcement – had been adopted to combat the problem of false self-employment.[5] However, it has rejected the suggestion of taking a legislative approach, claiming that “to define self-employment by legislation is neither easy nor practical” or “may be counterproductive”.[6] In June 2018, the government reiterated that it “has no plan to expand the scope of the
Employment Ordinance” to include self-employed persons.[7]

This research explores the working conditions of platform work in Hong Kong. In this research, we focus on grassroot platform workers involving low levels of skills and complexity in a localised context.[8]

We chose three sectors, namely food delivery, goods delivery, and social care in our investigation, with two primary objectives:

1. Understand and arouse public attention to platform workers’ working conditions and challenges.
2. Explore potential policy solutions to alleviat
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationHong Kong
PublisherCentre for Social Innovation Studies, Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Commissioning bodyOxfam Hong Kong
Number of pages74
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022


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