DOXA 2021: The Gig Is Up reveals exploitation of contracted workers on a global scale

Director Shannon Walsh notes that even though task-based work existed before, the new platforms are different

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      Labour relations in the gig economy are explored in a global context in The Gig Is Up, directed by Vancouver-based Shannon Walsh. The documentary profiles gig workers in the U.S., France, Nigeria, China, and other countries who work for Uber, Lyft, Deliveroo, and Amazon Mechanical Turk.

      In the film, Walsh meets workers who are trying to make a living off these platforms but are faced with shrinking wages and the constant threat of being “deactivated”. Sidiki, an undocumented migrant worker in France who delivers food for UberEats, describes his job like this: “We protect the food more than our own lives.”

      For example, if he delivers a drink to someone and a bit of coffee spills in the bag, the customer might complain to UberEats, which could deactivate his account “like you’re nothing”, he says. He shows Walsh’s camera a path he biked for a food delivery one day. “Seven kilometres…€5.54 (about C$8.30).”

      Some drivers and delivery workers featured in the doc say they were making livable wages when they first joined an app, only to see earnings drop as the market became more saturated. Others discuss the constant demands of a job that has been marketed as “flexibility”.

      In one scene, a delivery worker for Uber and Deliveroo says she feels pressured to be overly polite out of fear someone will give her a bad rating and she’ll be deactivated. Another worker says that after accepting and then cancelling three orders in a period of three months, Uber penalized them.

      The Gig Is Up

      According to Uber Canada, drivers and delivery workers can accept and reject any trip or delivery request they receive. When it comes to customer complaints, it’s only in “extreme and rare instances” that there may be an investigation that could result in loss of access to the Uber platform.

      “One thing that was really clear was that people’s experiences around the globe are more similar than different,” Walsh says in an interview. “We really wanted to make sure that we captured the kind of flattening of this global phenomenon, the way this kind of technology and platform-based apps are changing work.”

      Walsh notes that even though task-based work existed before, these new platforms are different. “The reality of what it means to be tethered to an algorithm is something that a lot of us haven’t really considered, the idea that we’re actually losing people work through bad ratings,” she says. “We’re not rating apps; we’re rating human beings.”

      Because Uber drivers aren’t paid by the hour, the company encourages them to be out in the city at all hours, since the more drivers on the road, the faster service will be—while still not paying them for time spent idling between passengers.

      The Gig Is Up is screening at the DOXA Documentary Film Festival from May 6 to 16. It’s also being shown at the DOXA Drive-In next Thursday (May 13) at the Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) Amphitheatre. For more information, visit the DOXA website.