Monday, August 27, 2018
"Workforce ... or 'Taskforce'"? Jeremias Prassl, in New Book, "Humans as a Service," Explains the Law and Machinations of Gig Work via Labor Platform Intermediaries
In a new book, British Law Professor Jeremias Prassl analyzes the gig economy with a focus on the workers who actually labor in the gig workforce – and with an eye on the dignity and rights of such workers. Humans as a Service: The Promise and Perils of Work in the Gig Economy (Oxford University Press 2018).
Prassl accepts that new forms of business enterprises, like Uber, Lyft, and Taskrabbit have changed the nature of business, but he rejects the proposition that work itself needs to be examined differently. He shows that models of work in the gig economy find predecessors in the history of work relationships. As a result, caution is required in the analysis of whether the gig economy has truly changed the nature of work. Prassl, after showing that the purported innovation of platforms reflects old models of work, that enterprises like Uber retain control over its workers, and that much gig economy lingo is in fact “doublespeak” that clouds the critical analysis, argues that familiar Anglo-American precepts of employment law should apply to work in the gig economy.
Much is to be learned by the workers’ compensation specialist from Prassl’s book. He explains the nature and economics of the gig economy; how gig economy enterprises disingenuously seek to rebrand work as some innovation, the better to ward off regulators; and how laughable the idea is that most workers in the gig economy are autonomous entrepreneurs. Prassl also explains in detail that gig economy enterprises resemble the commercial labor intermediaries that have been with us since the 19th century, abetted in the present day by advanced communications.
On this point, Prassl asserts that, just as other labor intermediaries are subject to employment law, so should gig workforce enterprises. Prassl concludes his book by emphasizing that the wealth of enterprises like Uber comes at a societal cost – it is fine, for example, to create fleets of independent contractors to prowl the streets en masse 24/7, but when unemployment or injury occurs, it is the taxpayers who will likely pay the cost.
Prassl’s book is, to my knowledge, the first by an employment law scholar to comprehensively take on the issue of work in this specialized sector of the gig economy. His insights and manner of argument will be familiar to the lawyer-reader, but this book is also a manifesto at once exposing and rejecting a modern example of the unsatisfactory commodification of labor.
For me, the analysis brought context and will inform my reasoning as a judge – and as a member of the public. I read it twice to make sure I have a mastery of the text. Fortunately it is nicely written and flawlessly edited. My full review (a kind of Cliff's Notes) may be found at www.davetorrey.info.