Fair work for gig economies – what about universities?

Nordwit researchers participated in the WORK2021 Conference (13-14 Oct 2021), chaired by professor Anne Kovalainen, Turku University, Finland. The conference keynote speakers addressed the global working conditions under gig economies and digital platforms. Funda Ustek-Spilda, University of Oxford and the Fairwork Network, talked about fair work after Covid-19 and described five aspects that would make fair work in gig economies: fair pay, fair conditions, fair contracts, fair management and fair representation. Then, Uma Rami presented an ILO report of an extensive global study on how digital platforms transform the conditions of work.

The algorithms of digital platforms, measuring productivity and various other indexes, the results being displayed at the internet, coordinate the interplay of clients and workers. Simultaneously they influence on everyday lives of the workers (coming more often from the global South) and even the lives of Finnish mom bloggers, as was discussed by Katariina Mäkinen.

Digital platforms and gig economies make an illuminating context also for the Nordwit researchers who presented in the streams of Gendered Work, chaired by Päivi Korvajärvi and Minna Nikunen (Griffin, Salminen Karlsson, Vehviläinen), as well as in Digital Society, Technology and Work (Corneliusen, Seddighi).

Marja Vehviläinen presented a research paper, co-authored with Päivi Korvajärvi and Oili-Helena Ylijoki, to be published in the Finnish Journal of Working Life Research in November 2021, on the persistence of gender inequalities in the Finnish academia during the past four decades. The found persistent gender inequalities address many of the concerns of the Fairwork Network: work conditions, work contracts and management which are all governed with the neoliberal algorithms on productivity and competition. Universities have not learnt – in four decades – to implement fair recruitment, supervision or management, including, for example, of the reconciliation of parenting and research work.

Gabriele Griffin discussed work-work (in)balance in research and innovation. The multiple simultaneous projects, contracts, work roles and split work time, combined with constant work overload, found in her study on Nordic academic workers in Digital Humanism, do not sound very different from the workers’ conditions described in the ILO report of digital platforms. However, academic research and innovation work may partially have adapted even more extreme forms neoliberalism than the digital platforms. There are competitions of research funding in which even 95 % of research funding applications fail. Time spent on failing applications do not count and do not even get measured by the algorithms that measure the productivity in research and innovation institutions. Griffin suggested more research over the “multiple project culture”, and also change for it, as the multiple project culture is not sustainable for institutions nor for individuals who work in them.

Marja Vehviläinen

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