Employment

Gig economy platform Upwork is the latest company allowing users to support Ukrainians

In the gig economy, no work means no pay.

Upwork links clients with freelancers across the world who complete tasks including copywriting, graphic design and project management at competitive rates. Image: Unsplash / Christin Hume

A gig economy platform for freelancers is allowing people to donate directly to Ukrainian workers by commissioning them for projects they don’t have to complete.

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, countries around the world have been chipping in to support people fleeing the war zone, and businesses, too, have been figuring out the best way to help those who have lost their homes and livelihoods. 

Until recently, gig economy workers in Ukraine were still paying fees to the apps they normally use to find freelancer projects. Wired reports that, amid the war, some freelancers are continuing to work, but renegotiating deadlines with clients and relying on their goodwill to put projects on pause when necessary. 

But with hundreds of thousands of Ukranians seeking refuge in countries such as Hungary and Poland – the UK has only recently allowed Ukrainian refugees to apply for UK visas to join family members – the challenge of delivering work to clients is understandably huge. And as is the nature of self-employed or freelance work, if the job doesn’t get done, payment won’t be made. 

Up to three per cent of Ukraine’s workforce are registered on web platforms designed for freelance work, making the country the world’s seventh largest supplier of online labour. 

Software engineers, graphic designers, project managers, IT technicians, editors and copywriters across Ukraine use platforms including Upwork and Fiverr to complete tasks for clients, often overseas, at a rate lower than those in the commissioning country. 

Back when tensions started to seriously escalate on the Ukraine-Russian border in January, Upwork emailed its Ukrainian freelancers suggesting they “ensure all work is up-to-date” to “help minimise any potential disruptions”, according to a report in Wired. A month later, when war had actually broken out, the platform was criticised for failing to act. 

Now, it has announced a way for people to support individual freelancers in Ukraine by sending funds directly to them without requiring any work.

“You can now purchase a project from Project Catalog and funds will be donated directly to Ukrainian talent, no freelancer fees or work required,” the company announced on Twitter

There are 3,953 projects available for clients to book with Ukrainian freelancers, ranging and each one has the option to send the funds directly to the worker without requiring completion of the project. 

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The initiative works in a similar way to how people started using AirBnB to book a room or property in Ukraine, without the intention of actually going there, so that the owner could receive the funds as a donation. AirBnB has turned off guest and host fees for bookings in the country, meaning it won’t take a profit from the donations. 

According to a March 4 tweet from Airbnb’s CEO Brian Chesky, more than 61,000 nights were booked in Ukraine on the platform over the course of 48 hours, with total gross booking value at nearly $2 million.

Following in the footsteps of the many western companies that have pulled down their shutters in Russia, including 850 McDonald’s branches, Upwork, a US company, has suspended all operations in Russia and Belarus. The platform will not allow any new business contracts to be made with freelancers based there and force existing projects to commence by May 1 2022. 

Vice prime minister of Ukraine Mykhailo Fedorov thanked UpWork for “limiting the access to the platform in russia! Thank you for standing whith [sic] us.”

But some are also arguing that denying everyday Russians their livelihoods is unjust, despite recent polling showing that the majority of Russians support the war.  

Upwork CEO Hayden Brown told Bloomberg Technology that while it was “such a tough decision” for the company, “operational realities on the ground” including sanctions that have forced payment partners to withdraw from the region, meant that they were already struggling to run the platform in Russia.

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