Person at laptop
Credit: Adrian Swancar

For both platform workers and academic staff, precarious labour conditions highlights the growing inequality in the workplace.

This week, academics at 58 institutions of higher education will strike for fairer pay, better pensions, and improved work conditions. 

In these negotiations, the University and College Union (UCU) have linked pay, equality, workloads and the casualisation of work into one dispute.

Each of these issues is important, particularly the call to eliminate non-contract work and the increasing demands that university staff are always at work, a distinction that is lost when our homes have become a place of work – an exceptional situation installed by the pandemic, adapted to by academic workers and optimised for profit by academic  boards, that threatens now to be taken for granted as the new normal. 

“The cost of on-demand work is not always visible to those in power”

The right to disconnect and the casualisation of work sit at the intersections of the Minderoo Centre of Technology and Democracy’s research, which focuses on the centralisation of big tech in the west (Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft) and its power to determine new labour practices for those marginalised by precarious work conditions. 

At the Centre, we are collectively working to highlight the cost of precarious labour for platform workers, and the same applies to the casualisation of academic labour taken up by UCU’s industrial actions. 

The not-so uncanny parallels between tech workers and academics are a growing concern, and the centre is working to highlight the growing inequality among workers.

The ripple effects of on-demand work for workers also have implications for families living on lower incomes and those marginalised by their inability to work due to long-term health-related conditions. 

Yet, the cost of on-demand work is not always visible to those in power – and is also not largely visible to the public that depends on this work for a variety of global systems and daily needs.

How do we make sense of this wide-ranging set of harms? There are several areas that can help to address these harms:  

Digital wellbeing in the workplace

This includes the right to disconnect when the number of contracted hours has been completed for the week.  Always “being on” runs the risk of prolonged periods of overtime. Fixed hours for online communication and expected action fulfillment. 

Build towards an inclusive and diverse workplace

Everyone should be treated equally and without discrimination based on their gender, race, disabilty and ethnicity. This means removing barriers to career progression, increasing retention, and further provision of mentorship. 

Data-driven technologies

Further research on the impact of data-driven technologies built on worker surveillance, and tools designed to manage the workforce.   

Flexible work

Flexible work conditions rather than the on-demand work defined by the marketplace.  

In continuing our research on the impact of tech-driven technologies on the future of work, we call on workers across all sectors to show solidarity with those striking for the end of casualisation of labour, fair pay and pension. 

We must interrogate what a “new normal” means for workers in a post-covid 19 workplace and build towards equitable futures in a digital era. 

We call for united resistance to the exploitative terms of the remote workplace, and we call for management across sectors to acknowledge and make affordances to mitigate the injustices of digitised work.