CXC GlobalContact us
CXC Global
EnglishCXC Global
CXC Global

Unlocking the Gig Economy: The Rise of Digital Labour in EMEA

CXC Global8 min read
CXC GlobalDecember 08, 2023
CXC Global

An in-depth exploration of the key factors driving the platform work explosion across the EMEA region.

Today, over 28 million people in the EU work through one or more digital labour platforms. This number is predicted to skyrocket to 43 million by 2025. 

And, even if you’ve never worked in the gig economy, you’ve probably participated in it — by ordering a takeaway on Deliveroo or hopping in an Uber to the airport, for example. 

In this article, we’ll dive into exactly what we mean when we talk about the ‘gig economy’, and how it’s different from traditional self-employment. 

We’ll talk about: 

  • The key factors driving the growth of the gig economy
  • Key characteristics of the gig economy in EMEA
  • Challenges and hurdles for gig workers and platform operators

To make sure we’re all on the same page, let’s start with a definition.

What is the gig economy?

A gig economy is a market that relies heavily on freelancers, independent contractors and other temporary workers rather than permanent employees. 

Depending on your definition, this might include freelancers who are paid by the hour or project, temporary workers hired for a set period or independent contractors who get paid on a contract-to-contract basis. 

However, when we talk about the gig economy, we’re usually referring to workers using apps or platforms that connect them to tasks (gigs). Those workers are paid according to the number of tasks they complete. For this reason, it’s sometimes called the ‘platform economy’.

But even this narrower definition encompasses a lot of different types of work. When we think of platform workers, we typically think of people delivering takeaway food or driving for passenger ridesharing services. But it also includes knowledge workers who complete tasks like translation, copywriting or coding, for example. 

The growth of the gig economy is a global phenomenon: according to McKinsey’s 2022 American Opportunity Survey, 36% of employed Americans identify as independent workers, up from 26% in 2017. 

However, in this article, we’ll focus on the particularities of the gig economy in the EMEA region. 

The growth of the gig economy in the EMEA region 

Over the past two decades, the gig economy has exploded. A recent report by The World Bank put the global number of gig workers at 435 million people. This figure has increased by 41% since 2016. And, like any huge societal change, there isn’t just one reason behind it. 

Here are some of the key drivers of the gig economy over the past two decades: 

  • Shaky economic conditions: In difficult economic circumstances, companies often can’t afford to hire full-time staff — but they still need to keep their operations running. Many rely on gig workers, who they can simply hire to complete one-off tasks through a labour platform. 
  • Rise in labour platforms: Over the past 15 years or so, we’ve seen a huge rise in the number of digital labour platforms that connect gig workers to customers. Through these platforms, consumers have easy access to food deliveries, taxi rides and all manner of online services. 
  • Other technologies: The ready availability of remote collaboration software has made it possible for knowledge workers to work from anywhere. This has given rise to a growing number of online gig workers working out of their homes. The improvements to GPS technology have also been crucial in allowing the growth of ridesharing platforms like Uber, because it means there’s a relatively low barrier to entry for drivers. 
  • COVID-19: The COVID-19 pandemic increased participation in the gig economy in a few ways. First, global demand for delivery services skyrocketed as national and local lockdowns confined people to their homes. Plus, as people found themselves out of work, many had to turn to non-traditional means of making money to keep themselves afloat. 
  • Generational change: Another important factor in the gig economy is that younger generations simply don’t want to work in the same way as their parents and grandparents. According to a global survey by gig platform Fiverr, 67% of Gen Z respondents either want to freelance during their career or are doing so already. 

Key characteristics of the gig economy

People working for themselves instead of having a full-time employer is nothing new. In the UK, it’s been steadily on the rise since the late 1990s. But when we talk about the gig economy, we’re talking about something quite different from traditional self-employment. 

Here are a few of the key characteristics of the gig economy as we know it today: 

Pay-per-task model

Gig workers are typically paid a fee for each task they complete. For example, Uber drivers are paid a base fare per ride, plus additional money for the time and distance involved. Couriers for Deliveroo earn a fee that varies for each order, including a variable distance component. Other gig workers working for online platforms like Upwork or Fiverr are paid an amount agreed on with their clients for each task they complete.


Not everyone working in the gig economy is doing it full-time. In fact, a survey by UberEats found that over 80% of its drivers in the UK had another significant responsibility, including other jobs, studies or looking after a family. The survey also found that if the platform were to disappear, only 23% of drivers would replace it with a full-time job. This is confirmed by a CIPD survey from early 2022, in which only 20% of respondents who worked in the gig economy said they saw it as their main activity. 


The gig economy offers a great deal of flexibility for workers because they only need to work when their other responsibilities allow them to. They’re theoretically free to turn down work they don’t want to do — although whether this is actually the case has been the subject of many controversial court cases in the last few years. 


Gig workers find and accept tasks through apps or platforms set up to connect those workers with clients. Depending on the type of gig work we‘re talking about, that might mean delivering a pizza, dropping off a passenger or translating a legal document for a one-off fee. 

Case studies: the gig economy in practice in 3 European countries 

Since the gig economy is a relatively new phenomenon — at least in its current form — a lot of the country-level regulations around it are based on case law. Let’s take a look at a few important cases that have shaped the gig economy in three European countries: the UK, the Netherlands and Spain. 

UK: Supreme Court rules Uber drivers are workers

In 2021, the UK’s Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by Uber against an employment tribunal decision. The lower court had ruled that Uber’s drivers should be classed as ‘workers’, not self-employed independent contractors (we’ll get to what that specific term means in a moment). 

The court reached this decision based on a number of factors. For example, they cited the fact that Uber provides a set maximum fare for rides, meaning they can’t meaningfully set their own prices. Uber’s app also hides passengers’ destinations from drivers until they accept a ride. The court argued this means drivers are not free to turn down work they didn’t want to do. 

The UK is unusual in having this third category of ‘worker’, which is distinct from both employees and independent contractors. In the UK, workers are entitled to some employment rights, like the National Minimum Wage, paid holidays and protected rest breaks. However, they typically aren’t granted things like sick pay, maternity pay and protection from unfair dismissal. 

Netherlands: Supreme Court finds Deliveroo riders are employed 

In March 2023, the Dutch Supreme Court upheld a decision by the lower courts that delivery drivers working for Deliveroo between 2018 and 2022 were employees, not independent contractors.

Deliveroo had argued that the workers were free to choose their own hours and refuse deliveries if they didn’t want to do them. But the courts countered that there was a relationship based on authority between Deliveroo and its riders. 

Deliveroo pulled out of the Netherlands in 2022 after struggling to gain a substantial market share. But the Supreme Court’s finding will have implications for other high-profile cases, including an ongoing case against Uber that was referred to the Supreme Court in October 2023

Spain: Glovo and the so-called ‘Riders Law’

As with the other two examples, this story involves a case working its way up through the country’s courts to determine whether Spanish food delivery platform Glovo’s workers were employees or ‘autónomos’ (freelancers) as the company claimed. 

While Glovo did win some of the legal rulings, the Supreme Court ultimately confirmed in 2020 that the workers were employees. Along the way, Glovo has been forced to pay fines, penalties and back-payment of social charges totalling more than €200 million, according to the Spanish newspaper El Diario.

This landmark case has even prompted the Spanish government to draft new legislation to protect gig workers. The ‘Riders Law’ introduces a presumption of employment for workers who provide paid distribution services through labour platforms. 

Challenges and hurdles of the gig economy

The gig economy comes with various challenges for both workers and platform operators. Let’s take a look at some of them. 

For gig workers

  • Instability and uncertainty: Unlike with a regular job, there are no redundancy packages or required notice periods for gig workers. This means they could be dismissed by the platform they work for at any time, for any reason. 
  • Lack of rights and protections: Gig workers typically don’t have access to employment benefits like paid sick leave, health insurance or paid holidays. That said, workers are beginning to be granted these rights in certain countries thanks to landmark legal cases that have found them to be employees, not independent contractors.

For platform operators and employers

  • Regulatory concerns: In many countries, platforms that incorrectly classify their workers as independent are facing huge fines and other penalties. The EU’s Directive on Platform Work will bring in additional regulations that platform operators will need to be aware of once it comes into effect.

What does the future look like?  

The platform economy is still growing, and isn’t expected to slow down any time soon. 

However, the next few years will be an interesting test of the gig economy as an economic model, as platforms face increasing scrutiny of their employment practices. 

The EU’s Platform Work Directive is also expected to come into force over the next few years. This will standardise laws across the EU, and make it easier for gig workers to access basic employment rights like the minimum wage, paid holidays and sick leave.  

Of course, these rules will only apply to the EU’s member states — but it’s very likely that we’ll see similar legislation arising elsewhere as the gig economy continues to grow. 

Learn more

Want to learn more about the complexities of the gig economy in EMEA and beyond? Check out these articles:

Share to: CXC GlobalCXC GlobalCXC Global
ShareCXC Global

About CXC

At CXC, we want to help you grow your business with flexible, contingent talent. But we also understand that managing a contingent workforce can be complicated, costly and time-consuming. Through our MSP solution, we can help you to fulfil all of your contingent hiring needs, including temp employees, independent contractors and SOW workers. And if your needs change? No problem. Our flexible solution is designed to scale up and down to match our clients’ requirements.

CXC Global