Digital platforms have soared five-fold over the past decade, offering opportunities to some but also eroding workers’ rights, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said on Tuesday.

From ride-sharing apps like Uber and online marketplaces like UpWork linking freelancers and clients, to software that allows employers to oversee workers, digital platforms have transformed the nature of work, the UN’s ILO said.

“At their best, all these platforms provide new opportunities,” said Guy Ryder, head of the ILO, which surveyed 12,000 workers in 100 countries, 70 businesses and 16 platform companies in its first in-depth report on the platform economy.

“There are opportunities for disabled workers, for those in remote locations. There’s evidence that those who have been unemployed or marginalised might find their way into the labour market,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview.

The Covid-19 pandemic has sped up the shift to a digital economy, changing the way work has been organised and regulated for decades. With job losses, millions have become gig workers, providing on-demand driving, delivery or childcare services.

But in many cases the work is poorly paid - with half of online workers earning less than $2 an hour - and lacks access to traditional employment benefits, like collective bargaining, insurance and work-related injury protections, the ILO found.

Platforms generally classify workers as independent contractors and their rights depend on the platforms’ own terms of service, not employment law.

The ILO found significant inequities in the platform economy, with workers in developing countries earning 60 per cent less than those in developed countries, even after controlling for basic characteristics and types of tasks.

Read the full article about workers' rights by Thomson Reuters Foundation at Eco-business.