Workers engaged in a rapidly growing form of unregulated internet work known as microwork are routinely denied minimum wage, it can be revealed.
A survey by think tank Autonomy and researchers from the University of Exeter and the London School of Economics suggests thousands of people could be earning less than £4 an hour.
Micro workers perform simple tasks such as identifying and captioning images to push AI operations, data entry, or simply clicking on advertisements to generate traffic. The industry has grown during the pandemic as people are forced to work from home.
But the survey of 1,189 UK-based micro-workers suggests that, like others in the labor economy who are not classed as employees under employment law, wages are often below pay minimum.
Almost two in three said they earned less than £4 an hour on piecework terms where they are paid by the task, with 95% earning less than the UK minimum wage. The hourly rate is actually even worse because workers have to spend time getting new assignments. Some 30% of microworkers reported spending at least half an hour on unpaid activities per hour of paid work.
Most of the micro-workers, who number in the millions, come from countries like India, Kenya and Venezuela, but with wages stagnating in the UK amid a cost of living crisis, even wages this low are becoming increasingly attractive to Brits.
The report states: “Microwork and other forms of digital piecework are beginning to play an important role in the neoliberal ‘bustle culture’: the idea that people should be productive all the time and that Success is determined by endless work and the achievement of an entrepreneurial ideal. Due to the influence of a pervasive “always on” culture promoted by celebrities and influencers on social media, many workers feel guilty when they are not working. »
Will Stronge, research director at Autonomy, said the UK government should “name and shame companies that pay microworkers below minimum wage” and “unfairly exploit thousands of microworkers” in a “booming industry that has no regulations”. He added: “This invisible online workforce deserves better pay and workplace protections.”
Micro-workers often have no relationship with the people they work for. A micro worker from the east of England told the Observer“It is difficult to get in touch with anyone from these platforms to say if there is a problem or if the system is not working. It’s faceless, you’re part of a machine. Things are pretty one-sided.
He started doing microwork during the pandemic, and he relishes the fact that he can work during the hours spent commuting. But “the pay is low when you put it in context and I think companies and platforms are getting very cheap labor out of it,” he added. “You could also have your work rejected and that means you’re not getting paid for it. If I relied on this for my main income, I would be very concerned.