The Gig Economy in Complex Refugee Situations

Abigail Hunt, Emma Samman, Dina Mansour-Ille and Henrieke Max

Forced Migration Review 58, June 2018, pp. 47-49


This article explores the challenges and opportunities presented by the gig economy for Syrian refugees in Jordan. Research with Syrian female refugees in Jordan suggests that, despite significant challenges, the gig economy (where workers and purchasers of their services are brought together via online platforms) has potential to expand refugees’ access to work opportunities. The authors identify several challenges associated with the gig economy including: (a) the small size of the gig economy (1.5 percent of the active workforce); (b) the fact that the gig economy does not offer decent work as defined by the ILO; (c) barriers to entry for marginalized communities, e.g. those with limited internet connectivity, limited digital literacy, or women requiring permission from male family members to use the internet; (d) lack of legal clarity around whether non-Jordanian gig workers require a work permit—supporting gig work might mean supporting access to informal work, with the associated risks; (e) challenging work conditions, e.g. lack of social protection and bargaining power; and (e) in the case of refugees, apprehensions about submitting private information online that might put them at risk. Nevertheless, the gig economy presents opportunities for livelihood programming: (i) early engagement provides the opportunity to shape these technologies and impacts; (ii) the platform provides some protections to workers, e.g. independent log of hours worked, which alleviates the risk of wage theft and facilitates prompt payment on task completion; (iii) the platform permits refugees to undertake crowd work, i.e. tasks are commissioned and carried out via the internet using suitably skilled ‘crowd workers’ located anywhere in the world; and (iv) potential to help overcome the barriers that restrict the mobility and participation of female refugees in the labor force.

The authors make the case for livelihoods programming in Jordan to include opportunities in the gig economy, if implemented alongside protection measures and other employment options. They suggest: (1) engaging in dialogue with government to clarify the applicability and enforcement of existing labor regulation in relation to the gig economy; (2) supporting refugee engagement in navigating gig work; (3) encouraging responsible company engagement; (4) facilitating refugee association; (5) exploring cooperative models; and (6) supporting the collection of evidence about gig worker experiences in order to inform programming and advocacy. These steps would help to increase the individual capacity of workers to engage within the gig economy and improve work conditions.