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Digging into Gig Economy in Serbia: Who are digital workers from Serbia and why they work on global digital platforms?

Authors:

Abstract

This first study on digital gig economy in Serbia answers the questions of who the digital workers from Serbia are and what is their socio-economic status in society. At the same time, this exploratory research reflects upon the principles of decent work in Serbia in the context of digital work. If this form of work entails changes brought by digitalization and technologies, as many researchers and scholars claim today, the perspective of decent work seems to be very important. It enables a critical assessment of the well-being of all workers as well as of the quality of their employment.
Digging into Gig Economy in Serbia:
Programme: The Future of Work
Research Summary
Branka Andjelkovic | Jelena Sapic | Milica Skocajic
Who are the digital workers
from Serbia and why do they
work on global platforms?
2
INTRODUCTION
WHAT IS DIGITAL PLATFORM WORK?
WHO ARE THE DIGITAL WORKERS FROM SERBIA?
DECENT INCOME IN THE DIGITAL WORLD?
IS THERE EMPLOYMENT SECURITY IN DIGITAL WORK?
SOCIAL PROTECTION IN DIGITAL WORK?
WORKING HOURS AND WORK-LIFE BALANCE IN THE DIGITAL WORK
SKILLS DEVELOPMENT AND DIGITAL WORK TRAINING
SOCIAL DIALOG IN THE DIGITAL WORLD?
CONCLUSION
Branka Andjelkovic, Jelena Sapic and Milica Skocajic
Digging into Gig Economy in Serbia:
Who are the digital workers from Serbia and why do they work on global platforms?
Published by: Public Policy Research Centre, Belgrade: February 2019
Design: Jelena Novakovic, www.artofce.rs
Proofread: Snezana Djuric
Copyrights: Public Policy Research Centre, Belgrade: February 2019
www.publicpolicy.rs
ofce@publicpolicy.rs
Study supported by Olof Palme Center in Serbia. The views expressed in this publication are solely those of
the CENTER and do not necessarily reect the ofcial position od the Olof Palme Center in Serbia.
Digging into Gig Economy in Serbia:
Who are the digital workers from Serbia and why do
they work on global platforms?
3
Who are the digital workers from Serbia and why do they work on global platforms?
Introduction
Serbia has been at the very top of
the world for years in the eld of
crowdwork1 on Internet-based
platforms. is “silent revolution
(Aleksynska et al., 2018) was initially
revealed in the 2015 World Bank
report (Kuek et al., 2015). Serbia,
together with Romania, was ranked
as one of the leading countries in
both the world and Europe by the
percentage of digital workforce
in relation to the total population
and to the total workforce in the
country (ibid).
Although using dierent measure-
ment techniques, researchers
continuously seem to get similar
results: the Online Labour Index
(OLI)2 of the Oxford Internet
Institute shows that Serbia was
ranked the eleventh in the world and
the fourth in Europe based on the
number of active digital workforce
in December 2018. Simultaneously,
an article on the size of the global
market of online freelancing for
2018 (AnalyticsHelp, 2018) listed
Serbia as the eleventh based on the
number of its digital workers; and
thereby as the country in which
digital work, measured per capita, is
the most widespread. According to
this source, Serbia has 3.52 digital
workers per 1,000 inhabitants,
compared to 1.72 workers in the
United States of America, the cradle
of gig economy.
ese estimates make Serbia an
interesting member of the global
community of digital workers. e
results call for the investigation of
this phenomenon in terms of social
and economic upgrading of digital
workers, with a particular focus on
implications on the labour market
and shadow economy in the country.
is rst study on digital gig
economy in Serbia answers the
questions of who the digital workers
from Serbia are and what is their
socio-economic status in society.
At the same time, this exploratory
research reects upon the principles
of decent work in Serbia in the
context of digital work. If this form
of work entails changes brought by
digitalization and technologies, as
many researchers and scholars claim
today, the perspective of decent
work seems to be very important. It
enables a critical assessment of the
well-being of all workers as well as
of the quality of their employment.
In order to provide answers to
the above research questions,
quantitative and qualitative methods
were applied. In this regard,
quantitative methods include new
approaches such as collecting
open data on platforms, but also
“traditional” ones like online surveys.
As for the qualitative techniques,
semi-structured interviews with
the workers, decision-makers in
the eld of labour, employment,
and social policy, as well as with the
representatives of international and
local organizations active in these
elds were carried out. Also, digital
workers forums were assessed.3
Digital work was analyzed from the
decent work4 perspective, employing
six fundamental dimensions: decent
pay, security of employment, social
protection, working hours and work-
life balance, skills development and
training, and social dialogue (UN,
2015). Decent work conceptualized
in this manner encompasses a
number of employment aspects that
are not hierarchically organized and
can be understood only in mutual
relation. e structure of the study
and the summary are organized in
six sections to discuss the status of
digital workers from Serbia through
selected decent work dimensions.
1 An overview of terminology (Heeks, 2017) indicated nearly 30 dierent terms to describe the intersection between work, connectivity and
digital technologies. e most commonly used classication of paid work done on the Internet is on-demand work and crowdwork (Sundarara-
jan, 2016; de Stefano, 2016). In case of on-demand work, matching of supply and demand takes place over an Internet-based platform but the
service itself is delivered in a real, geographically dened space (e.g. BlaBla Car, CarGo, AirBnB, Booking). On the other side, in crowdwork,
the entire process – matching of supply and demand, service delivery – takes place online (e.g. Upwork , Freelancer, GeeLancer) and the work
is done remotely. In this study, the terms crowdwork and digital work are interchangeably used as synonyms.
2 For more details on Online Labour Index, see: Kassi & Lehdonvirta, 2018.
3 e collection of open data was conducted from March to April 2018 on three general platforms: Freelancer (452 active workers), Guru (7
active workers) and People per hour (6 active workers), and from May to June 2018 on two specialized platforms: DMM Eikawa (1939 active
workers) and Microworkers (202 active workers). e classication of general and specialized platforms is made in accordance with range and
type of tasks oered on platforms. is collection was organized in accordance with the ethical principles for online research (Townsend and
Wallace, 2016) and respecting the principles of data protection. e survey was conducted from July to August 2018 and included a total of 228
respondents (120 men and 108 women). Furthermore, discussions on the ve groups on social networks were analyzed. Last but not least, in
total, 30 digital workers were interviewed in August-September and 10 decision makers in December 2018.
4 In this study, decent work is dened as productive work for women and men in conditions of freedom, equality, security and human integrity
(ILO, 2008: vi).
4
Digging into Gig Economy in Serbia
WHAT IS DIGITAL WORK?
Digital work is one of the rst and
most massive phenomena that links
the elds of digitalization, labour, and
employment. Digital (crowd) work
stands for paid remote work in which
the employer is not necessarily located,
or registered, in the same country as
the worker. According to the analysis
of the digital labour market, the sup-
ply side is more present in developing
countries with the growing IT industry
while the demand is being located in
developed countries (OECD, 2018).
Digital work is reected in performing
a series of specic tasks, i.e. gigs, with-
out indications of permanent employ-
ment (Graham et al., 2017a). ese
tasks can either refer to microtasks that
can only be completed in a few minutes
(e.g. tagging photos) and do not require
matching education; macro-tasks that
require signicant time and suitable
skills (e.g. web development); and the
complex tasks which entail multifacet-
ed work and sophisticated skills (Fel-
stiner 2011). Skills needed to perform
these types of tasks can be classied
into six major groups: soware and
technology development, writing and
translation, creative and multimedia
industry, sales and marketing, clerical
and data entry, and professional ser-
vices5 such as law, nance, consulting.
Digital work is facilitated by Inter-
net-based platforms that emerged as
business models on the wave of digital
innovation. Although they oen de-
ne themselves as intermediaries, the
platforms actually perform some of the
functions of an employer. Apart from
acting as prot-making entities, they
prescribe procedures and rules for the
work to be carried out. ey also decide
who and under what conditions can
be engaged or dismissed. Finally, plat-
forms perform accounting functions
(e.g. providing invoices, pay, refunds,
etc.), but they do not oer any oppor-
tunity to establish the employment or
the basis to cover social benets.
Some experts estimate that the use of
digital platforms increased by around
30-40% between 2015 and 2016
(OECD, 2018). One of the reasons for
this rise is the ability of a platform to
eciently and quickly match supply
and demand, thus signicantly re-
ducing transaction costs (McKinsey,
2015). e platforms allow access to
skills and talents around the world at
any given time. eir emergence has
provided clients – individuals and le-
gal entities – with a place for unprec-
edented scalability of the workforce.
Platforms have oered a possibility to
use the workforce only for those tasks
that their clients need, and terminate
the (working) relationship as soon as
the required task is completed (Marvit,
2014). In the recent past, this could not
have been an option under the most
exible labour law.
On the other hand, platforms have
provided workers with a chance to
overcome the shortcomings of a local
5 is classication of skills in digital work was prepared by the Oxford Internet Institute.
Figure 1. Labour force supply in the digital work according to the worker’s country of origin
Source: OLI, Author: Milos Popovic
5
Who are the digital workers from Serbia and why do they work on global platforms?
labour market in which there is no
demand for their skills and/or which
oers lower prices for their work. Plat-
forms oer a myriad of job opportuni-
ties, accessible even to those without
previous working experience. is
proved to be particularly important
for workers in rural areas where other
employment opportunities may not
exist (Greene & Mamic, 2015; Naru-
la et al., 2011). It is also important for
workers who face high barriers when
attempting to enter the labour market
due to their age, health conditions,
discrimination (e.g. migrants, women,
sexual and national minorities), or for
workers who are temporary out of the
labour market.
e emergence of digital labour has
deepened the already existing disbal-
ance between exibility and security.
is trend has been created in the last
two decades with the rise of non-stan-
dard forms of employment such as
temporary employment, part-time and
on-call work, disguised employment,
and multiparty employment relation-
ships (ILO, 2016; Eurofound, 2017).
Digital work has also contributed to
reducing the rights stemming from the
employment, such as eight-hour work-
ing day, basic social protection, the
right to paid sick leave, vacation and/or
insurance in case of an injury at work.
e self-determination of platforms
as applications, web platforms and/or
intermediaries (Todoli - Signes, 2017)
enabled them to opt out of the employ-
ers’ obligations. Along these lines, they
treat all the workers as self-employed.
Digital work, in various local contexts,
has been presented as the engine of
the economic development and ulti-
mate panacea against unemployment
and other structural problems of the
labour market. However, its impact
on the legacy of decent work and the
quality of employment has not been
suciently explored in the growing
body of literature.
6
Digging into Gig Economy in Serbia
WHO ARE THE DIGITAL WORKERS FROM SERBIA?
Young and highly educated people
with university degrees in econom-
ics, design, marketing, architecture,
philology, and engineering make
up the majority of digital workers
from Serbia.
ey most oen provide services in
the eld of soware and technolo-
gy development (30%), writing and
translation (29%) or in the creative
and multimedia industry (22%). A
signicantly lower percentage of dig-
ital workers from Serbia is engaged in
sales and marketing (3%), clerical and
data entry (6%), and in professional
services (10%).
e Center’s research shows that the
main motivation for joining the digital
workforce includes the access to bet-
ter-paid jobs, the source of extra mon-
ey, and the inability to nd a job in the
oine world. Most digital workers
work on platforms that oer various
types of work (e.g. Upwork and Free-
lancer), followed by those specializing
only in one area such as foreign lan-
guage lessons (DMM Eikawa, ABC
Tutor) or design (99 Designs).
e following illustration shows the
basic demographic characteristics of
digital workers from Serbia, as well as
skills, length of engagement on plat-
forms, etc.
In addition to this basic data illustrating typical digital workers from Serbia, the next sections examine their
socio-economic position from the decent work perspective.
She is between 25 and 29
years old. She completed
undergraduate studies.
He is between 25 and
29 years old and he
graduated from high
school.
She works in the
eld of wring and
translaon.
His skills
are related
to soware
development
and technology.
She has been
working on digital
labour plaorms for
three years. She has
another job in the
oine world.
He has been working for about
three years on the plaorms and
has registered as an entrepreneur.
She does not
contribute the most
to the household
budget.
He contributes
the most to the
household.
Typical digital workers from Serbia are young people living in urban areas.
They started working online as they were looking for an addional source of income.
7
Who are the digital workers from Serbia and why do they work on global platforms?
Income is a very important element
of decent work because it is the basis
of the material well-being of workers.
e main motivation of most hired
workers is aspiration to provide a
decent living standard for themselves
and their families.
As the Center’s research shows,
income is one of the main motives for
workers from Serbia to join the digital
workforce. For some digital workers,
however, such work represents the
main source of income, whereas for
others it is additional cash inow
apart from their main earnings, and
for some, only pocket money. Taking
this into account, examining the role
of their income in the context of
decent work poses a challenge.
In general, digital workers earn
better than their counterparts in the
traditional economy. eir average
gross income is about 1,200 USD per
month compared to average gross
salary of 680 USD (Statistical Oce
of the Republic of Serbia, 2018a)
in Serbia in July 2018, when the
Center’s survey was conducted. e
average consumer basket in the same
month amounted to about 700 USD
(Ministry of Trade, Tourism, and
Telecommunications, 2018).
For one-third of the surveyed
digital workers who are registered
as entrepreneurs, digital work
represents the main source of income.
Simultaneously, they are among the
best earners: on average, they earn
1,960 USD gross per month. Most of
them provide services in the IT sector
and in the creative and multimedia
indu s t r y.
In contrast, the rest of the respondents
earn less – on average about 800 USD
gross monthly. is gross amount
actually represents net income which
is fully available to them. Due to the
legal framework in Serbia which does
not recognise this type of work, the
activity of these two-thirds of digital
workers remains in shadow economy6;
thus not subjected to tax regimes.
Despite good earnings among
digital workers in Serbia, the digital
transformation of work has not
eradicated income inequalities and
gender pay gaps. According to the
research results, the total earnings
of the top 20% of digital workers are
18 times higher than the earnings
of the 20% of those at the bottom.
In comparison, these dierences
are twice as large as those between
workers’ salaries in the traditional
economy. For example, the total
income of the top 20% in Serbia is 9.7
times higher than the income of the
20% of the population at the bottom
of the income scale in the oine world
(Krek, 2018). Although two spheres
of work cannot be compared, it is
interesting to note that the signicant
dierence in the digital pay mirrors
Serbias position as the country with
the highest income inequality in
Europe.
Womens income in digital work
reects the gender pay gap in the
oine work. More than 50% of the
surveyed women monthly earn 600
USD gross compared to more than
50% of the men who earn 1,000
USD gross a month. Not only are
their earnings lower, but women are
also dominant in sectors that are
traditionally less paid and labeled as
female (e.g. writing and translation).
e Center’s ndings coincide with the
ndings of similar studies conducted
in countries with the same or similar
level of development as Serbia, such
as Ukraine, the Philippines, etc.
(Aleksynska et al., 2018; Graham et
al., 2017b). Short term digital work
produces positive impacts on national
economies by enabling the workers
to aord a decent standard of living.
However, its structural characteristics
reected in income and gender
inequalities call into question its long-
term benets both for the individual
and for the society.
Digital work provides opportunities for decent pay in Serbian context. Digital workers generally earn better than their
counterparts in the ofine world. In this respect, Serbia is similar to other developing countries with a high share of
digital labour on platforms, in which this work offers a possibility of better earnings.
DECENT INCOME IN THE DIGITAL WORLD?
+
700
IT Sector
USD
Writing & Translation Creative Industry Sales & Marketing Clerical & Data Entry
Men Average earningsWomen
Professional Services
900
1,100
1,300
1,500
1,700
1,900
Figure 2: Average earnings of digital workers based on their skills and gender
6 Some of digital workers are accounted
as employed in the oine world, some are
registered as the unemployed, some belong to
inactive population
8
Digging into Gig Economy in Serbia
e stability and security of
employment is dened by international
and local standards of work, inter
alia, by an open-ended contract, a
guaranteed working week, minimum
wages, protection and safety at work.
ese constituents protect workers
from the risks that short-term contracts
can have on their well-being and
personal development.
In digital work, short-term contracts
are the most common. ey dene
the level of fees, means of payments,
sanctions in case of the job not being
completed, and mediation instance
in case of a dispute. However, the
possibility for digital workers from
Serbia to be hired as an employee or
under a service contract does not exist
because the platforms are not registered
as employers in Serbia.
e only option oered by the local
legislation is the registration of a
business entity. Almost a third of the
surveyed digital workers regulated
their legal status in this way. ose who
opted for such a solution in most cases
decided to register as entrepreneurs,
and only in few cases they established
companies. Most digital entrepreneurs
are men, whereas only 18% are women.
Apart from the good income, the
decision to become an entrepreneur is
oen inuenced by the predictability
of the job. According to the Center’s
research, having steady clients was
the key factor for digital workers to
consider regulating their legal status in
Serbia as a business entity.
About two-thirds of the respondents
remain in shadow economy due to the
lack of other solutions. A possibility
to register as an independent worker
and/or a freelancer does not exist in
Serbia, although there is legal basis to
draw upon such a solution. Currently,
it is only available to a limited number
of professions (e.g. artists, journalists,
priests).
Due to the lack of legal provisions,
these workers are oen registered
as the unemployed at the National
Employment Service (NES) or are
considered as inactive population, and
thus their work remains invisible. Even
when they are “visible” to the system
through another job in the oine
world, they cannot get a supplementary
contract7 referring to the digital work.
is gap between the existing legal
solutions and emerging forms of
non-standard forms of employment
contributes to the growth of informal
employment, which is already relatively
high in Serbia – in the third quarter of
2018, it accounted to 20.4% (Statistical
Oce of the Republic of Serbia, 2018b).
Informal employment is more present
among women in both the online
and oine sphere of work. As already
pointed out, digital female workers
rarely register business entities which is
the only legal option in Serbia to make
their work on platforms visible.
One of the ways to reduce the insecurity
of employment for these workers is
to create a legal environment so that
they can be treated as employees, as
already done in France and Belgium.
ese two countries have a large
number of independent professionals,
i.e. freelancers, and have adapted their
systems to this growing phenomenon
that also includes digital work. For
example, freelancers in France can
join umbrella organizations (fr.
portage salarial8) or co-operatives.
ese organization provide them with
administrative and accounting services.
In return, they treat freelancers as
employees for the duration of their
contracts.
e nature of digital work in its principle
exposes individuals to uncertainty and
unpredictability of work, regardless
of their country of origin. us, the
position of digital workers from Serbia
at rst glance appears to resemble
the position of their European peers.
However, what makes a dierence is the
availability of local solutions adjusted
to the emerging forms of work, and
envisioned as means to reduce exposure
to the risks. If the position of digital
workers from Serbia is assessed from
the perspective of legal options and
opportunities to regulate their working
status, it can be considered as the one
leading to precariousness.
Digital workers from Serbia do not enjoy security of employment and predictability of work. By its nature, digital work is a exi-
ble form of work that excludes the establishment of permanent employment. But, digital workers form Serbia cannot conclude
any type of short-term contract in accordance with the local legislation even if they wanted to because there is no legal basis for
doing so in Serbia. This is why digital workers from Serbia are in a worse position than their European counterparts.
IS THERE SECURITY OF EMPLOYMENT IN DIGITAL WORK?
-
Graph 2
Inactive
27%
Unemployed
19% Employed
23%
Firms
2%
Entrepreneurs
29%
D
i
s
g
u
i
s
e
d
E
m
p
l
o
y
m
e
n
t
7 e supplementary work contract is foreseen
for persons already in full-time employment in
Serbia. is contract is subject to a limitation –
it may be concluded up to one third of working
time. When concluding this contract, the
consent of the main employer with whom the
employee has signed a contract of employment
is not required (Paragraf, 2013).
8 Portage Salarial is an umbrella company that
assists freelancers, consultants, digital workers,
etc. In handling registration processes and
making payments (including, earnings and
social benets). It was established in the 1980s
but got popular recentlz with the rise of digital
work (Entreprendre Avant Tout, 2012).
9
Who are the digital workers from Serbia and why do they work on global platforms?
e importance of social protection
covering health, pension, and disabili-
ty insurance, as well as unemployment
insurance, is to provide workers with
safety nets during their working lives,
especially in the event of adverse cir-
cumstances or sudden termination of
the employment. Equally important
aspects of the quality of employment
include the right to a paid sick leave,
maternity/paternity leave, and paid va-
cations. Envisioned in this manner, so-
cial protection as one of the key legacies
of decent work has been challenged by
the growth of exible working arrange-
ments and has been especially weak-
ened by the character of digital work.
Unlike traditional employment struc-
tures where social security contri-
butions are deployed between the
employer and the employee, this rela-
tionship in the eld of digital work is
now changing. Platforms are not regis-
tered as employers in most national ju-
risdictions, including Serbia. us, all
social security costs are transferred to
workers who cannot establish employ-
ment or conclude contracts as the basis
to exercise their fundamental labour
and employment rights.
In order to gain full access to the na-
tional social protection system, digital
workers in Serbia have two options:
to establish employment in the oine
world or to register their own business
entity. More than half of the surveyed
digital workers (54%) have another job
or are entrepreneurs. In this way, they
gain access to the entire social protec-
tion package – health care, pension,
insurance in case of disability, and
unemployment insurance. As women
more oen have another (oine) job,
and men are more oen entrepreneurs,
there are no gender disparities in access
to the basic social protection system.
Digital workers who are employees in
the oine sphere are in an advanta-
geous position to the entrepreneurs as
they are entitled to paid sick leave, va-
cation, and absence from work. Entre-
preneurs generally enjoy these rights,
but unpaid.
For the remaining 46% of the surveyed
digital workers in shadow economy,
access to the social protection system
is considerably more tangled. Due to
the nature of the healthcare system in
Serbia, digital workers are in most cas-
es insured – either through registered
unemployment status at the NES, or
through the insurance of their parents
(if younger than 26) or of their spous-
es. However, about 20% of respondents
do not have access to health insurance,
which is surprising, given that public
health services in Serbia are available
to almost the entire population (97.2%;
SIPRU, 2018).
e biggest challenges for the 46%
who work under the radar are in the
domains of pension and disability in-
surance, and unemployment insurance
coverages. Digital workers who are
registered as the unemployed or in-
active population in the oine world,
despite their digital work, do not exer-
cise these rights. In other words, their
years of services on platforms are not
recognized by the system. ese digi-
tal workers only sometimes seek social
protection through contributions in
private health, pension, and/or life in-
surance funds.
Digital workers who already enjoy
basic social protection (from employ-
ment or their own business) are also
likely to have private insurance, either
pension, health or life insurance, com-
pared to other digital workers who are
registered as the unemployed or are
inactive. is points to the emerging
inequalities among the digital workers
and the creation of two classes – one
that is socially protected on several lev-
els, and another that is, due to the legal
vacuum, at a greater risk of social ex-
clusion and poverty at the old age.
Access to the social security system of
digital workers in Serbia reects the
problems that they share with their
colleagues in Europe and other parts of
the world (Pesole et al., 2018, Berg et
al., 2018, Aleksynska et al., 2018) which
arise from the legal regulation lagging
behind in accommodating the new
trends.
Digital work as a non-standard form of employment is not recognized by the local legislation, and thus cannot
be in itself the basis for the access to the social protection system. In order to achieve the access to social
benefits, digital workers in Serbia resort to other solutions such as retention of employment in the offline
sphere or registration of a business entity. Compared to Serbia, other European countries offer a number of
solutions for workers in flexible forms of work, including digital work.
SOCIAL PROTECTION IN DIGITAL WORK?
-
10
Digging into Gig Economy in Serbia
Non-linear careers with frequent in-
terruptions and changes in work en-
gagements, just like in digital work, are
increasingly present. ey undermine
the sustainability of the current designs
of social protection systems. Antic-
ipating the increase of the number of
freelancers, including digital work-
ers, some European countries, such as
France and Belgium, have reformed
and adapted social protection systems.
In these countries, freelancers enjoy
the same protection as employees. At
the same time, the issue of allocating
social protection costs between work-
ers and (non-existent) employers re-
quires higher engagement of the state.
Under current circumstances, the state
is expected to play an increasing role
and take over part of the responsibility
of the employer in providing social se-
curity benets.
e eight-hour working day, i.e. 40-
hour working week, represents one
of the greatest achievements of the
decent work legacy. e balance
between work and private life is a very
important aspect of good work since it
acts as a guarantee of the meaningful
and creative work and leaves time for
a leisure and rest.
According to the Center’s research,
83% of digital workers work
standard 40 hours a week or less.
us, most workers on digital
platforms enjoy a working week that
does not deviate signicantly from
the number of hours their colleagues
in traditional employment spend
at work. Additionally, this reects
similar working hours patterns in
other European countries (Pesole et
al., 2018).
e survey also shows that those
digital workers who work more than
40 hours per week most oen are
entrepreneurs or have a rm, and
digital work is their main source of
income.
Digital work oen involves working
non-standard hours, in the evening
or during the night. In spite of this,
digital workers value their freedom of
choice when it comes to their working
hours. In the Center’s survey sample,
about one-h of digital workers
work in the morning, about two-
hs (38.6%) in the aernoon, and
about one-h in the evening and at
night (26% and 18%). is freedom
to choose ones own working hours
allows most digital workers (85%) to
combine work on the platforms with
other obligations.
An important feature of digital work
is work from home, making it an
appealing option for those who like
to work in their own arrangements
and outside the oce. As the
survey shows, most digital workers
purposefully chose this type of work.
However, what should be kept in
mind is that digital work, in the long
run, can impair the balance between
work and private life. Continuous
working arrangement “between four
walls” erases the boundary between
working and free time and opens up
space for fatigue, constant exhaustion,
and lack of social contacts that digital
workers oen report as negative sides
of their work.
Regardless of the shortcomings, so
far, digital work in Serbia with its
exible working hours retains the
characteristics of decent work.
Digital workers highly value the flexibility and the possibility to adjust their work engagement to other
obligations. From this standpoint, they have an advantage compared to the offline workers who are not able
to plan their own time in the same manner. Based on the length of working hours and the work-life balance,
established trends among digital workers from Serbia reflect the European ones.
WORKING HOURS AND WORK-LIFE BALANCE IN THE DIGITAL WORK
+
54%
social and health insurance
26%
health insurance only
20%
no insurance
Figure 3: Available forms of insurance
11
Who are the digital workers from Serbia and why do they work on global platforms?
e quality of work depends on a set
of skills and the availability of training
needed to perform work well and ef-
ciently. is quality also depends on
the compatibility of skills that work-
ers possess in relation to the scale of
demand for a particular type of work.
Under conditions of traditional em-
ployment, the employer assumes the
obligation to train workers before
entering the workplace, and the obli-
gation to develop the skills of workers
when the need arises. But, in com-
parison to the oine sphere, skills
development in digital work depends
on the workers themselves who are re-
sponsible for both personal and pro-
fessional development.
As research nds, digital work re-
quires continuous learning that is
spurred by the nature of online jobs.
Such learning also entails retraining,
primarily through non-formal edu-
cation. Digital workers from Serbia
are themselves exploring the market
demand and nding ways to respond
to it. In this race, they are ready to set
foot in other elds of work. For exam-
ple, among IT workers, there are those
who have completed studies in lan-
guages, arts or social sciences (19.1%),
and vice versa (14.5%).
Improving skills in digital work relates
to professional and technical skills, as
well as so skills. e latter is crucial
for success and involves active com-
munication, creativity, problem-solv-
ing, negotiation ability, and exibility.
Equally important is the knowledge of
business cultures in dierent contexts,
which contributes to a better place-
ment of services in both online and
oine environments. In this manner,
a transfer of skills between the two
spheres of work is facilitated.
Another level of analysis is related
to gender dynamics. Men dominate
the IT sector, and women the eld of
writing and translating. e analysis
also shows that formally acquired ed-
ucation still plays a crucial role when
choosing the (digital) occupation.
However, having in mind the impor-
tance of non-formal education in the
online sphere, it can be expected that
digital work at least partially neutral-
izes the established gender roles.
From the perspective of acquiring and
improving skills, European and Ser-
bian digital workers alike are le on
their own. Some countries (France,
Sweden, Spain, etc) recognize the
growth of the freelancer communi-
ty and the need to support them in
professional development through
organizing trainings. However, such
examples are still rare and the range
of training topics are not suciently
adapted to the undergoing process of
digitalization of the working world. In
the long run, digital work has the po-
tential to contribute to the added val-
ue of services in the global and local
economies.
The nature of digital work requires self-initiative and a continuous development of technical and professional skills,
including soft skills. By recognizing the importance of non-formal education and training, digital work provides the
opportunity for greater horizontal and vertical mobility of workforce. In comparison to the ofine environment,
skills acquired through digital work have a higher degree of transferability. In this vein, the acquisition of the skills
and transferability observed in the case of digital workers from Serbia do not differ from practices and trends
among their colleagues from other countries.
SKILLS DEVELOPMENT AND TRAINING IN DIGITAL WORK
+/-
12
Digging into Gig Economy in Serbia
Social dialogue is essential and
contributes to the democratization of
work relations. It enables workers to
participate in decision making that
directly aects them, while at the same
time encourages the development
of mechanisms and instruments for
reducing inequalities in the labour
market. e dialogue is primarily
concerned with the freedom of
association and collective bargaining in
regard to the socio-economic policies
in the eld of work and employment.
e partners in social dialogue are trade
unions and employers’ associations
(that bring together entrepreneurs,
small, medium, and large enterprises
and business associations).
Since they cannot establish
employment, digital workers in Serbia
cannot ocially organize into unions.
According to the labour law, trade
unions are solely dened as employees’
organizations. On the other hand, one-
third of all surveyed digital workers are
ocially classied as employers, since
they opted for becoming entrepreneurs
or setting up a rm. ey can join the
union of employers and formulate
their demands by advocating business
incentives rather than improving
working conditions and rights.
ese challenges are reected in the
Center’s survey, which shows that
the collective organization of digital
workers from Serbia with the aim of
achieving better working conditions
on the platforms is almost nonexistent.
Only 4% of surveyed digital workers
were involved in some of the initiatives
to achieve labour rights. Such low
interest in advocating better working
conditions resembles the oine
environment in Serbia.
Previous initiatives to improve
working conditions of digital workers
from Serbia were of ad hoc character
and related to solving fundamental
issues such as the minimum pay (per
hour) or sudden termination of the
engagement (contract) by the platform.
ey have introduced a novelty
regarding the use of social networks
and forums to organize and advocate
labour rights. Facebook has proven to
be a signicant resource for mobilizing
and dening their requests addressed
to the platforms. However, insucient
protection of personal data of Facebook
activists exposes them to deactivation
of proles on the platforms on which
they operate, i.e. re or shut down of
their proles.
Findings of this exploratory research
from Serbia correspond to the results
of research carried out in dierent
parts of the world. A global study by
the International Labour Organization
in 2018 showed that only 5% of
digital workers considered improving
working conditions on platforms
along with trade unions, while only a
few expressed willingness for the trade
unions to represent their interests
(Berg et al., 2018).
Taking into consideration that digital
workers are geographically dispersed
and atomized, driven by various
motives to work on platforms, the
question regarding the common set
of values that would mobilize and
organize them arises. Ideas such as
the 40-hour working week, decent
salaries, job security, social protection
and participation in employee-related
decisions were the backbone of the
collective organization and bargaining
in the oine environment. In the
new digital context, relationships and
dynamics are changing. All this requires
a redenition of the social dialogue
that would enable the achievement of
good working conditions and reduce
inequalities among workers in the new
global digital economy.
Digital workers from Serbia do not organize themselves with the aim of achieving better working conditions;
as they do not recognize this topic as important. Even if they wanted to organize collectively, they would not be
able to. The local legislation does not recognize them as employees, which is the main precondition in Serbia
for joining and organizing a union. Additionally, the collective organization of digital workers is undermined by
the fact that those who wanted to regulate their status legally could only do so by becoming employers through
establishing business entities. Such a low interest in trade union activism and the organization of digital workers
from Serbia is similar to that among digital workers in other (European) countries.
SOCIAL DIALOGUE IN THE DIGITAL WORLD?
-
13
Who are the digital workers from Serbia and why do they work on global platforms?
CONCLUSION
Like other developing countries,
Serbia is characterized by low
economic growth, low wages,
high unemployment and a limited
supply of jobs for high-skilled
professionals. All this makes the
relationship between the digital
work and the decent work agenda
multi-dimensional and ambiguous.
On the one side, digital work is
a harbinger of positive change in
certain domains of decent work,
such as decent pay, work-life balance,
and strong motivation for workers to
improve their skills. ese positive
features of digital work are, on
the other side, accompanied with
high job insecurity, the absence of
social insurance coverage, and the
lack of social dialogue that are still
reserved for the traditional forms of
employment.
Due to this complexity, digital
workers from Serbia represent a
hybrid model of a worker torn
between the future and the past. ey
are willing to accept uctuations
embedded into the digital work as
they primarily value exibility and
earning opportunities. Nonetheless,
they get exposed to eroding security
of employment and social security,
consequently bearing high costs of the
transfer of risks and responsibilities
onto themselves.
Although this is more or less typical
of all digital workers in Europe,
those from Serbia are faced with
signicantly greater challenges than
their European counterparts. In
Serbia, the legislation has not yet
accomodated this emerging form
of work. is study shows that the
existing models of regulating the
status of workers in non-standard
forms of employment, including
digital workers, are not satisfactory,
thus leaving most of them in shadow
economy. So far, current solutions
are centered around the traditional
employer-employee relationship, in
which rights and protection derive
from the established employment.
Serbia has two strong motives to
focus its attention on dening the
appropriate solutions that would
reconcile the need to protect the
individual rights of digital workers
and enable them to contribute
proportionately to their own
development and well-being in the
society. e rst motive is to preserve
the professionals that are globally
high in demand. e digital labour
force possesses globally demanded
and valorized skills, and they can
decide to leave Serbia if their needs
are not addressed. e other is the
long-term goal of Serbia to build
a competitive knowledge-based
economy. Seeking solutions that
will create a conducive environment
for digital workers’ prosperity is a
milestone on this road.
e well-being of all workers and
the quality of employment in the
digital age must take into account the
growing importance of autonomy
and atomization in relation to the
social character of work, but not
at the expense of solidarity, social
justice, and equality.
Digital work: opportunity or threat for decent work?
14
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References
15
Who are the digital workers from Serbia and why do they work on global platforms?
Public Policy Research Center (CENTER) is a team of innovative researchers and digital enthusiasts deliberating on the fu-
ture of work in Serbia, as well as inclusive security and the creation of sustainable partnerships focused on social change. e
CENTER was founded in year 2010 as an independent think tank aiming to contribute to the development of a sustainable,
prosperous and just society in which the opinions and concerns of all citizens are equally heard and appreciated.
e CENTER strongly believes that the future of work should be addressed now should Serbia aim to keep decent work and
quality of employment legacies in place. e future transformation will depend on today’s responses of policy-makers, business
leaders, and workers in Serbia.
During 2018, CENTER carried out the research on proles and socio-economic positions of workers, women and men, from
Serbia working on global digital platforms. is form of work is a novelty globally, and Serbia is no exception. e goal of this
project is to draw the attention of the general public, national actors and policy-makers to the position of digital workers, and
to advocate for the introduction of labour and employment policies able to accommodate their needs.
According to the Online Labour Index (OLI) developed by the Oxford Internet Institute, Serbia was ranked as the tenth in the
world and the fourth in Europe in December 2018. According to the 2015 World Bank data, Serbia, together with Romania,
had one of the most populous communities of digital workers, relative to the country population and total labour force.
is is the rst ever research in Serbia that deals with proles of workers on digital platforms. As such it has attracted the at-
tention of the international academic community. In 2018, CENTER presented the preliminary results of this research at the
leading academic conferences dedicated to platform work and economic geography in Bucharest, Cologne, Amsterdam, and
Milan, and got invited to present the nal results in Vienna, Barcelona, and Valparaís in 2019.
Belgrade, February 2019
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Data
Data repository for the data underlying the Online Labour Index. See http://ilabour.oii.ox.ac.uk online-labour-index/ for details.
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