They do this to all freelancers sadly. It became like this for a number of reasons, and a poor attempt at Uberisation is one. They don’t really value the workers they have and true support, when it matters is next to non-existent. The way Shadi’s case in particular has panned out, he’s still done with Upwork. All they did was allow him to withdraw his funds and get out. What Upwork seem completely oblivious to is that uninformed people only use their platform for cheap labour. What they seem oblivious to is that 77% of businesses, especially freelancers, suffer bad payers all the time and that those bad payer personality types are exactly the sort of people who use gig economy sites like Upwork.
If people are able to and commercially aware, they should go out on their own or use one of only a few other sites (as I mentioned elsewhere, the problems with Upwork and endemic). The protection offered is in reality, next to zero. There is one particular site which is absolutely excellent! Extremely hard to get into, but it’s been excellent. Shadi mentions it and it’s Toptal. I don’t want to put it too high on a pedestal, but it pays very well relative to these other sites.
The disappointment I have with Upwork is that it rebranded the combination of ELance and o-Desk precisely because it was perceived as rubbish and complained about a lot! It had became a useless race to the bottom. The good buyers got bad experiences and the good sellers got bad experiences. So both parties left. It left just the majority of bad buyers and bad sellers. ELance was excellent to start with. It was good until about 4.5 years ago. The jobs and money good. Then it more or less collapsed over the course of a year to be the… well… whatever it was.
The shift to Upwork seemed to leave freelancers under a much more draconian set of rules in the T&C’s than before. It left them both at the mercy of “don’t say s**t about us!” dressed up as “community” and also held freelancers liable for things the buyers did too (e.g. Contacting them outside Upwork, even if the buyers did that unbeknown to the seller). Work for fields such as software development are commoditised to such low levels and are not quality assured that the quality you get can be awful and in any event, doesn’t pay any of your bills as a seller, including the electricity to write the code, since the rates on offer are so low as to make them laughable. Now Upwork has the audacity to charge the buyers the rates they do? 20%? It is way better to go back into permanent employment and in any event, for these fields, Upwork has to compete with the contract market, through recruitment agencies, which pay 50 to 100 times what you earn through the Upworks of this world. It also affects your own work on there if you’re not careful. If you have to get a job to pay the bills and try to carry on the client work as well, then you’ve given up your spare time for very little, which also impacts the good clients’ opinion of you and damages their timelines.
That said, the only things that can thrive on Upwork are linguistic in nature. So translation, copywriting, blogs etc. since you can’t fake the language and everyone is doing it. Hence, basic economics, supply and demand, writers in developed countries earn very little, so can make the same little money online. As for everything else, avoid it like the plague! Upwork don’t like it? Welcome to real community! Where people look out for each other.