Platform Workers' Legal Status and Challenges to Labor Law-The Case of China's Sharing Economy


Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Awarding Institution
Award date1 Sept 2021


New businesses and work structures resulting from the development of digital technology have posed challenges in determining the legal status of workers in the so-called ‘sharing economy.’ This debate has taken place in China in recent years. Chinese labor law is not entirely clear on how the platform workers should be classified. This has given rise to a need for extensive data on workplace practice and workers’ status in digital labor platforms. Building on document analysis, empirical research, and comparative studies, this research intends to provide a critical analysis on whether and to what extent these app-based platform workers are challenging Chinese labor laws as a new phenomenon.

Followed by an examination of the evolution of the Chinese labor law regime and nonstandard labor relations, it explores the legal dimensions of platform work by in-depth empirical case studies of two of China’s digital labor platforms. I argue that platform companies have sought ways to shirk off their accountabilities for workers by either outsourcing the business functions to lower local branches or exploiting legal loopholes in existing traditional industries. The discussion of digitalization of work should not neglect the broader phenomenon of ‘nonstandard forms of employment,’ such as part-time and temporary agency work. I also examine how courts approach the issue of platform workers’ status and illuminate the deficiencies in the legal standards and the ‘all-or-nothing’ system. Engaging with the comparative labor law inquiry on how different jurisdictions cope with the regulatory challenges of platform work, I rebut the doctrinal discourse on creating an intermediate category between the current dichotomy and propose some prescriptions for reforming the criteria and the approaches that the courts apply as well as extending protections to regulate labor issues in emerging labor platforms, such as collective bargaining, minimum wages, working time, work safety, and work-related insurance.