Christina J. Colclough
WeClock featured in Huck
In the article "Gig workers are fighting back by surveilling their employers - Turning the Tables" journalist Anna Dent presents ways in which gig workers are fighting back against algorithmic management. WeClock is one of the ways this is done.
Read the full article here, excerpt below.
Gig workers are fighting back by surveilling their employers
In the fight against bad bosses, workers are adopting the platform tactics used against them and adapting them for their own benefit.
(photo Unsplash: Carl Campbell)
Pay rates for Deliveroo drivers in Edinburgh have gone up recently, but workers don’t know why. The variables determining how much they get paid are contained by an algorithmic ‘black box’, which no-one outside the company has access to. Workers are left in the dark about why their incomes rise and fall – an unpredictability which causes stress and insecurity, says Deliveroo rider Lena (who asked for her surname to be withheld to protect her anonymity).
“At the end of the week you’re anxious, because you don’t know how much money you will earn,” she tells Huck. “Rates are changing every day. We don’t know enough about why rates change.”
But relying solely on the market to boost incomes is risky, as riders could just as easily see their earnings fall again if more people join the platform, says Roz Foyer, general secretary of the Scottish TUC. If riders knew more about how their rates were determined, they might be able to achieve permanent increases.
In response to this data-driven power imbalance, platform workers, unions and academics are fighting back. Dr Christina Colclough, founder of the Why Not Lab, sums up the challenge: “How do we, without increasing the surveillance of workers, give them control?”
One approach gaining momentum is to adopt platform tools and techniques and adapt them for workers’ benefit. “Companies have an attitude of ‘We can watch you and not tell you’… Now workers are wanting to say, ‘We can watch you too’,” says Cailean Gallagher, coordinator of the Edinburgh Workers’ Observatory.
Dr Colclough, when serving as director at UNI Global Union, worked with partners at Guardian Project, MIT Media Lab and Cambridge University to develop WeClock. The app allows workers to track a wide range of data produced while they work, such as a record of time spent in the workplace, whether proper breaks are taken, and time between shifts. The data might show that workers are putting in more hours than they are paid for or not given the breaks they are entitled to, helping them to gather evidence and build a case for change or compensation.
These new tools are not just the preserve of well-funded startups. In many cases, they are built by gig workers themselves, using their existing coding or copywriting skills. Boyan, for example, uses data skills gained from his new job in tech and his degree. It’s early days for many of these initiatives, with teams only just getting to grips with what is technically and legally possible, and the best tools to achieve their goals.
On top of fighting for better working conditions in the short-term, this idea of workers taking control of their data could feed into bigger conversations. This includes the future of platform ownership, and whether worker-owned platforms could one day become the norm.
For Roz Foyer, it is critical that unions embrace these new tactics and help to build digital tools that provide new ways of empowering workers. But Dr Colclough sounds an important note of caution, emphasising the need to avoid replicating the problematic aspects of the platforms workers want to challenge:
“We have to be very, very careful that we don’t jump into this new technology without thinking about protecting the privacy of members,” she says.