Published on People Move

Migrants, platform work and resilience

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In observance of the International Migrants Day, Dec 18

When Dee moved to Canada, she had high hopes of working back into her field of civil engineering, where had studied and worked in Syria. Canada was the place where she found herself hopeful, joyful for a new beginning of not being judged by the colour of her skin, ethnicity, religion – it was going to be her new community and home. Even during the thick of the pandemic when all opportunities seemed lost, rather than sitting at home, she was adamant about volunteering and giving back to her community. Dee is one of the many food couriers we see bustling and working around our cities and communities everywhere in the world – their movement is an undercurrent of economic transactions, a thread connecting people and services together, a steady pulse that drives a cities’ desire for instantaneity and convenience. They are part of a growing population of ‘on-demand’, platform economy workers, and migrants are essential in keeping this economy growing. 

In a merit-based immigration system like Canada has adopted, the amount of human capital of new immigrants is one of the highest in the world. From our research on migrants working in the platform economy in Canada, we find that migrants face many impermeable barriers of the labour market, their skills and talents being devalued, while their dreams of starting anew become also marred by accepting jobs well below their qualifications. So many turn to a new form of self-employment: platform work. Seeking there what low-level entry jobs cannot provide notably some flexibility and income while they try to requalify for their actual profession. Often though platform work becomes a long-term job rather than a stepping stone.

With new regulations and directives coming from around the world on protections for gig and platform workers, it is an ebullient sentiment of solidarity in pushing for advancements for workers against exploitative work and hidden algorithmic control. Such initiatives and the related labour and social movement rising has important implications for the lives of migrants around the world. 

Historical and systemic discrimination has always pushed migrants, women, and youth into underpaid, often precarious positions due to a lack of alternatives. Platforms and technology companies have simply repackaged that precarity through unfair labour practices, algorithms and glossy apps. There are deeply problematic issues when what we viewed as opportunities for migrants are in reality, stagnant or dead-end jobs, where the voices of workers are silenced. There needs to be an awareness as to how do migrants transition in and out of platform work and examining at how state infrastructure has been set up to assist (in some cases, hinder) those transitions.

Researchers have noted that the popularity of platforms has arisen out of crisis in 2008, and taking a step back, we must ask how this labour movement that has emerged out of crisis has become a new normal even over a decade later. As we navigate through another global crisis by the pandemic, it is yet another warning sign as to who will continue to be cycled through or left behind in this crisis. 


Laura Lam

Research Assistant and PhD student, University of Toronto

Anna Triandafyllidou

Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration, Ryerson University

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