Coronavirus highlights sick pay void for platform workers
The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is starting to have a serious impact on the world economy. The consequences for platform workers are especially severe in light of forced work stoppages due to self-isolation and lack of sick pay in many cases. Recent media coverage shows that platform workers in the transport sector (ride hailing and food delivery) are most affected, while professional services performed online (such as remote consultations with health professionals) could help to reduce the pressure on health systems.
Steps to cope with the outbreak
Platforms mediating on-location services, that is services delivered in person, are trying to cope with a decreased workforce, due to workers self-isolating or avoiding work for fear of contact with the virus, as well as changes to demand, which can increase or decrease, depending on the type of service the platform offers.
Lexology, a legal publisher, has provided a seven-point plan for platforms on how to manage the coronavirus outbreak. It recommends that they communicate tailored information to their workforces, communicate issues to customers, prohibit discrimination, be prepared for changes to demand and workforce numbers, and take the virus outbreak as an opportunity to future-proof their business model for similar situations. 
Uber has issued guidance to its drivers after it was reported that they had begun to avoid picking up passengers from airports.  The company also announced that it was temporarily suspending the accounts of drivers who tested positive for the virus or who may have been in contact with it.  The company has issued information through its website about the impact of the illness on drivers and customers, and has implemented measures to discourage drivers from working when they feel sick, including reassurances that they will maintain their Uber Pro status regardless of their driving activity. 
Pay for self-isolating workers
As the relationship between platform, client and platform worker is usually not based on a traditional employment contract, questions have arisen around sick pay for drivers directly or indirectly affected by the virus.
Cases where platforms pay workers who could theoretically work but self-isolate due to coronavirus symptoms are rare. Hermes, in the United Kingdom, which usually pays its 15,000 platform workers only per completed delivery, has set aside a support fund worth £1 million (€1.13 million) to support workers who have to self-isolate due to symptoms of the virus. The company said it would help couriers to find someone to deliver on their behalf if needed and has guaranteed that they can return to their delivery rounds when the self-isolation period ends. This followed pressure from trade unions over sick pay for platform workers and a deal struck between the company and the GMB trade union earlier in February that guaranteed holiday pay and a legal minimum wage. 
Reactions from other platforms are mixed. In Belgium, Deliveroo announced that it would exceptionally offer paid sick leave to workers who cannot deliver food due to self-isolation or illness.  In the United States, Uber will offer drivers 14 days of sick leave if they fall ill with the virus.  Amazon Flex drivers, however, will not be paid.  Postmates, a food- and goods-delivery platform, is setting up an emergency relief fund to support affected workers. Couriers who have made at least one delivery in states where cases of the coronavirus have been identified are eligible for compensation from the fund. 
Trade unions demand sickness cover
In Italy, the Deliverance Milano trade union has appealed to the government to provide support for platform workers affected by the virus. Orders for home deliveries in Milan have decreased significantly and, according to the trade union, Deliveroo has made no attempts to protect its workers from risks associated with delivery.  In Ireland, the Siptu trade union warned that the social protection system will not adequately support workers on low pay or employed in the platform economy. Workers who rely on the state’s sickness benefit system will have to go for a week without pay and will then receive €200 per week, which will hit platform workers and low-paid workers hardest, according to the union. 
In New Zealand, FIRST Union, the country’s second largest private sector trade union, has called for the government to provide statutory sick pay to platform workers amid the coronavirus outbreak. The union has also demanded that the government clarify the rules discouraging misclassification of employees as contractors, which would give them access to sick leave and other benefits. 
Brooke Masters in The Financial Times suggests that the coronavirus outbreak could propel platform worker rights and protections to the top of the political agenda. She argues that not only the workers but the clients are also worried by platform workers’ ineligibility for sick pay, which could lead to them working while sick and thereby spreading the virus.Public relations could put additional pressure on the platforms: in New York, an Uber driver tested positive for the coronavirus, which has decreased consumer trust in the company. 
Type of task matters
While stock markets have fallen sharply after investors’ concerns about the broader economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the impact on platform firms seems to be mixed. While restaurants in affected areas in China cannot admit customers to their premises, food-delivery platforms Baemin and Yogiyo have reported increased revenues, up by 9% and 11%, respectively, compared to the previous month.  Ride-hailing companies seem to be seeing a fall in demand – Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi expects a drop in revenues from the ride-hailing arm due to a fall-off in the company’s airport business, while the food-delivery arm, Uber Eats, is likely to benefit.  For Deliveroo in Hong Kong, lunch orders increased by almost 100% in February compared to the previous month. 
The platform economy may have something to contribute to controlling the outbreak by helping to support national healthcare systems, which are currently under exceptional pressure. In China, JD Health, an e-commerce firm that links pharmacies and doctors to patients, has reduced its fees and lured health professionals to the platform to provide online consultations. According to estimates, around 10 million people in China have consulted online health services, and half of them were first-time online patients. 
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