A RISE in the number of gig and platform workers spurred by the Covid-19 pandemic has triggered a worker-run initiative in Edinburgh called the Workers Observatory.

Supported by the STUC and partly funded by the Edinburgh Futures Institute at Edinburgh University, the project follows the blow delivered to gig workers in California under Proposition 22 (Prop 22), which effectively stripped them of entitlement to the state’s minimum wage, paid sick leave and other protections.

The Observatory was established to discuss the challenges facing gig and platform workers – who work as required for companies such as Amazon, Deliveroo and people such as care workers whose work is changing due to digital technology.

Last year the gig economy grew considerably to around 4.7 million workers – doubling in size over the previous three years. The STUC will consider its future at its annual congress today.

Cailean Gallagher, a STUC officer who is co-ordinating the project, told The National: “Delivery riders, home carers, and other gig workers are scattered across the city, often without union networks.

READ MORE: Coronavirus impact on Scotland's gig economy revealed

“They know the streets better than anyone, and platforms like Deliveroo take this knowledge and turn it into data that they use to control shifts, wages, and conditions. With the Observatory, workers have a place to collectively expose and challenge the reality of platform work – to equip them to build union power.”

The Observatory has set up three guilds for delivery people, those working in care and tech, where they can exchange experiences.

Care worker Gemma said Covid had changed the way she works: “It felt very isolating, the lockdown, because every interaction with the company has been through phones.

“I feel even less acknowledged for the work that I’m doing.

“I’ve been travelling across the city by bus, but I’ve not been going into people’s houses to avoid the risk of giving them Covid.

“At the beginning of the lockdown there was chaos, and I would make my way through town, potentially infecting other people, only to be told when I arrived that my shift had been cancelled.

“We very rarely get to meet other care workers. But we do have a sense of collective identity. Care workers can see care workers, and that’s what I like when I’m out and about.”

An unnamed delivery rider said he was not optimistic about his future and he and his colleagues were receiving “crumbs from the table” of Deliveroo, Just Eat and others: “The company knows that it’s a hard job. I think that we are part of the system that is going to be left behind in some ways in the next few years ... for us in the long term this is a dead end job.”

Alice Barker, a food delivery rider in Edinburgh and one of the founders of the initiative, added: “The transient nature of the courier workforce is something which makes organising hard, and understanding our hours and wages is quite a challenge.

“I am excited about how couriers and other gig workers can use the Observatory to share their experience of work, monitor their conditions, and work out actions to improve their working lives – something that has not really happened in Edinburgh so far.”