Digital Intermediaries in Domestic and Care Work

02 Mai -tik 03 Mai -ra

Coordinators: Eva Kocher (Europa-Universität Viadrina), Lorena Poblete (CONICET- Universidad Nacional de San Martín)

Description of the meeting

In the last years, the emergence of digital platforms in various sectors has called into question the traditional way of organizing and regulating work. Digital platforms grew up in the interstices of regulatory frameworks. Consequently, debates focused on regulation, in order to ensure social protections for platform workers. Most of the existing empirical research focused on delivery and transport sectors. Only recently has a field of studies on digital intermediaries within the domestic and care work sector begun to take shape.

The way in which digital platforms intervene in this sector is not homogeneous. The services they promote include both live-in, full-time, part-time or hourly positions. There are many platforms that work with self-employed workers, and others that work with employment contracts. In some cases, the platforms are constituted as an App for where both employers and workers present their job demands and offers. In this vein, most digital intermediaries offer matching services. Other models include services for managing the formalities related to the employment relationship (e.g., legal registration of the employment contract, payment of employer contributions and salary, etc.). They may also provide placement of migrant workers (posting). Many platforms at least implicitly offer the services they pretend to mediate to costumers, which makes for an ambivalent status between intermediator and service provider.

The emergence of digital platforms for domestic and care work altered recruitment mechanisms. The intimacy involved in working in the employer's home, and the performance of care tasks shape a particular employment relationship based on trust. That is why the platforms need to offer reliable workers, committing to verify criminal records and recommendations, as well as resorting to the presentation of themselves in different social media (such as Facebook, twitter).

Although they present particularities related to the type of activity they cover, these digital intermediaries share some characteristics with platforms in other sector. Firstly, the platforms present themselves as technological mediators limited to linking those who require a service with those who are willing to provide it. Secondly, they structure their intervention around control mechanisms, using reputation systems based on arbitrary criteria, promoting an “audit culture” that pushes workers to accept the demands of employers, even when they exceed the limits agreed at the time of hiring. Finally, they enable evading employment status and employers’ obligations in relation to social security contributions and respect for labor rights, and in this sense provide informal and precarious work.

The proposed workshop brings together most of the researchers currently studying digital intermediaries in the domestic and care work sector, as well as researcher specialized in platform work from a legal perspective. Researchers come from and have studies different countries. They are at different stages of their careers. The objective is to reflect on the effects of digital intermediation in the sector, as well as on the mechanisms to guarantee the rights of the (mostly female) workers.


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