Social Insurance for Gig Workers: Insights from a Discrete Choice Experiment in Malaysia

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Jasmin, Alyssa
The rise of “gig” or digital platform work globally has led to both enthusiasm for its potential to create lucrative employment for large numbers of people, as well as concern about its implications for worker protection that is often provided in more standard employment. While gig work platforms may not be akin to employers in standard work relationships, arrangements that do not obligate them to provide worker protection and social insurance contributions may leave several platform workers unprotected against a range of risks. Is the observed lack of protection among digital platform workers explained by an unwillingness on part of the workers themselves to make necessary contributions for social insurance coverage? This paper analyzes this question in the context of Malaysia, a rapidly growing upper-middle-income East Asian economy that has witnessed a rise in gig work in recent years. The paper deploys a novel vignette-based experiment to ascertain gig workers’ willingness to pay for social insurance coverage. The analysis finds overall a large unmet need for social insurance among gig workers, as well as a high level of willingness to pay for (especially) unemployment insurance, retirement savings, and accidental and injury insurance. This implies that the policy challenge is to channel such willingness into regular contributions for social insurance coverage through relevant and flexible options for contributions. More than subsidies, this segment of the workforce could perhaps benefit from better tailored, more flexible, and more easily accessible instruments for social insurance. The analysis also finds evidence of substitution between distinct insurance instruments. For instance, those who have access to retirement savings appear to be less willing to pay for unemployment insurance, and those with private medical insurance are less likely to contribute to the state-run injury insurance scheme. This underlines the need to approach risk insurance for digital platform workers more holistically and to consider a wider range of insurance instruments, including those offered by the private sector.
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Ghorpade, Yashodhan; Jasmin, Alyssa. 2023. Social Insurance for Gig Workers: Insights from a Discrete Choice Experiment in Malaysia. Policy Research Working Papers; 10629. © World Bank, Washington, DC. License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.
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