Ambika Tandon and Aayush Rathi

Care work and digital platforms in South and Southeast Asia

What is the role of digital labour platforms in the future of care work? And how have they been affected by the pandemic?

The coronavirus pandemic and government policy responses to contain the spread of the coronavirus have led to the deepening of fault lines across the informal economy. The International Labour Organization estimates that nearly 75 percent of domestic workers around the world including millions in Asia have been severely impacted—particularly those who lost their job or were forced to reduce working hours and remuneration without being eligible for government support.

Predating the outbreak of COVID-19, digital labour platforms for domestic work were rapidly rising in popularity. At its outset, digital platforms were impacted by government policymaking. The platforms advocated to receive permission to operate because domestic workers performing care functions are essential workers. It thus becomes pertinent to explore the roles that digital platforms have in determining the future of care work, such that effective policymaking enabling gainful work outcomes for platform workers can be designed for immediate and post-COVID-19 labour market situations.

In this study of digital platforms for domestic work in South and Southeast Asia, Ambika Tandon and Aayush Rathi assess three types of platforms- on-demand platforms, digital placement agencies, and marketplaces. Each of these has different recruitment strategies, placement processes, relationships with employers and workers, and levels of workplace protection.

In many Asian countries domestic workers continue to be excluded from labour protections, even those offered to other workers in the informal economy, which leaves them vulnerable to exploitation from employers. This also leaves intermediaries—who recruit and place domestic workers—outside the scope of regulation. For a few years now, digital intermediaries, such as these online platforms, have attempted to capture the domestic work sector with sometimes misleading promises of formalization and bringing benefits to workers who had previously been out of reach.

As part of our research paper series on Shaping the Future of Workers in Asia, the detailed study reveals that the models of platforms, processes of placement, and configuration of the supply chain are more diverse than the uberization model, which usually dominates discussions on the platform economy. It concludes with policy and design recommendations for governments and platform providers that can serve as a starting point for a fairer future of domestic work.

Tandon, Ambika; Rathi, Aayush

Fault lines at the front lines

Care work and digital platforms in South and Southeast Asia
Singapore, 2021

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