There has been nascent litigation around the world on the employment classification of workers in the ‘sharing economy’, ‘gig economy’ or ‘on demand economy’. New business models and forms of work organization arising from rapid advancements in digital technologies (or ‘disruptive innovation’ as some have described the phenomenon) have sparked considerable debate on a wide array of regulatory issues, including the role of labour law protections for the emergent ‘digital workforce’. This debate is currently taking place in the People’s Republic of China. This article analyses how Chinese courts and lawmakers have addressed issues that are directly or indirectly relevant to determining the status of drivers in the ride-hailing sector. Despite the presence of criteria for identifying a ‘labour relationship’ under Chinese labour law, the courts have not adopted a uniform approach across different types of claims involving these drivers. A new government regulation on the ride-hailing sector, which took effect in November 2016, has not resolved this issue as it permits ride-hailing platform companies to enter into labour contracts and other forms of agreements with drivers based on the particularities of their work arrangements. In considering these recent cases and regulatory developments, the article concludes that a purposive approach to the existing criteria in Chinese labour law for ascertaining the status of workers in the sharing economy is useful for addressing the basic question of whether they should be protected, rather than creating ‘new’ categories of employment classification.
International Journal of Comparative Labour Law and Industrial Relations