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Seminario: Beyond misclassification: algorithmic management as challenge to the Standard Employment Relationship

13 feb 2023
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El próximo martes 28 de febrero tendrá lugar una nueva sesión de los seminarios QUIT, que contará con la presentación de Tiago Vieira.


El próximo martes 28 de febrero tendrá lugar una nueva sesión de los seminarios QUIT, que contará con la presentación de Tiago Vieira, investigador predoctoral en la European University Institute (Florencia, Italia).

Con el título "Beyond misclassification: algorithmic management as challenge to the Standard Employment Relationship". Nos presentará su Proyecto de tesis en el que analiza el impacto de la gestión algorítmica en la relación laboral, con especial énfasis en los entornos de trabajo convencionales (o supuestamente convencionales).

Martes: 28/02/2023
Hora: 13:30
Presencialmente en la Sala de Juntas



Extant literature has depicted algorithmic management as a facilitator of surveillance and control, leading to workers’ discrimination, intensification, and unfair treatment through automated and semi-automated decision-making. However insightful these analyses are, most data informing such conclusions comes from Platform Work. In this setting, workers operate as (false) independent contractors and hence outside the scope of conventional employment relations. This limitation brings a double interrogation to the fore: First, whether the known impacts of algorithmic management are inherent to it or rather the result of its perverse combination with workers’ misclassification. Second, how can one characterize the employment relation resulting from embedding algorithmic governance techniques of platform work in the framework of standard employment?

Up to now, the answer to these could only be speculative; however, recent regulatory changes in Spain – notably, the so-called “Ley Rider” and the Labor Code reform – forced delivery platforms to hire couriers as employees under open-ended contracts. This transformation means platform couriers working in Spain are now expected to enjoy a standard employment relationship (SER). The SER is formally defined by a stable contractual bond with the employer and implicitly expected to harbor fair treatment, mutual trust, and workers’ (relative) autonomy and information – what different strands in the literature have termed implicit, psychological, and/or normative contract.

Nevertheless, following 23 semi-structured interviews with workers and trade union leaders and three weeks of non-participant observation in the streets of Madrid, reality seems to point in a different, more complex direction. 

While the (semi-)automated decision-making feature of algorithmic management seems to lose some of its relevance, it becomes a powerful artifact to amplify human managers’ surveillance and discipline powers. Much more present than up to now documented in the literature, managers closely follow couriers’ moves, not refraining from intervening whenever couriers’ choices seem less than optimal, thus intensifying the work rhythm. Also, the data collected by algorithmic management allows human managers to act both as coaches and unaccountable discipliners, respectively, making suggestions to workers on how to improve their performance and hiding behind alleged algorithms’ choices for sanctioning and wage theft.

In conclusion, the by and large unregulated presence of algorithmic governance techniques in couriers’ labor process short-circuits what would otherwise be a standard employment relationship, thus undermining the regulatory efforts of the Spanish Government. To a large extent, this stems from the surveillance possibilities offered by algorithmic management, leveraged by human managers in ways that compromise the normative underpinnings of the employment relationship through systematic breach of workers’ privacy, inducement of hazardous behaviors, diminishment of workers’ autonomy and constraints to right to information.

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