GetTod, South Africa’s innovative answer to 24-hour home maintenance, came out top for fairness to its employees, according to the Fairwork South Africa Ratings 2021 report, which evaluates the working conditions in 12 of the most popular digital labour platforms in South Africa, including Uber, Bolt, SweepSouth and MrD.
The “Fairwork South Africa Ratings 2021: Labour Standards in the Gig Economy” report said the top six platforms in the 2021 global ranking were South African-owned and led.
To understand the state of gig work in South Africa, Fairwork, a collaboration between the universities of Oxford, Cape Town, the Western Cape and Manchester, assessed 12 of the country’s largest digital labour platforms against five principles of fairness: fair pay, fair conditions, fair contracts, fair management and fair representation. Each had a fairness rating out of 10.
GetTOD came out top of the 2021 table with nine points.
M4Jam, a Joburg-based platform that distributes “microtasks” to users, domestic worker service SweepSouth and freelance worker provider NoSweat were tied in second place, with eight out of 10 points.
Fast-food delivery service MrD scored seven.
The lowest scores went courier service Picup, at five, ride-hailing firm Uber, at four, and fast-food delivery service Uber Eats, at four.
The report said although digital labour platforms had the potential to reduce South Africa’s high unemployment and inequality, there was growing evidence that platform workers worldwide faced unfair working conditions.
The sector, with an estimated 30 000 workers engaged in location-based platform work such as taxi driving, delivery and cleaning, lacked the benefits and protections afforded to regular employees.
UCT Department of Information Systems Professor Jean-Paul van Belle said work in the gig economy was often unsafe and insecure.
“Workers lack protections afforded to regular employees and are vulnerable to unfair practices like arbitrary termination, often based on inequitable regimes of customer ratings. It is important to understand and highlight unfair labour practices in the gig economy, and to assist workers, consumers and regulators as they hold platforms to account,” Van Belle said.
A growing number of South Africans found work in the gig economy, and digital platforms were frequently heralded as a solution to mass unemployment. However, the employment challenge facing South Africa was not simply the quantity of jobs, but also the quality of jobs being created.
Oxford Internet Institute researcher Dr Kelle Howson said that decent work and job creation were not mutually exclusive.
“This is why, by bringing workers and other stakeholders to the table, Fairwork is developing an enforceable code of basic worker rights that are compatible with sustainable business models,” said Howson.
This year’s report also highlighted some of the changes within the gig economy during the sustained lockdowns of last year and this year. While the food delivery sector had grown, the lockdowns, curfews and alcohol bans had significantly impacted the e-hailing sector. Similarly, in-person service delivery platforms, such as domestic work and handyman services, had suffered because of travel restrictions, social distancing and other Covid-19 safety measures.
Regardless of the sector in which gig workers operated, all workers were more vulnerable to exposure to the pandemic because of their inability to work from home.
Furthermore, the study found that the lack of sick pay for many workers meant that if they needed to self-isolate, they faced severe financial insecurity, because without Unemployment Insurance Fund benefits or sick pay, gig workers lacked a safety net.
The research also found that almost all the platforms that operated in South Africa paid at least the minimum wage. However, when workers’ expenses – such as petrol, transport costs and waiting times – were taken into account, six out of the 11 platforms paid workers above the minimum wage. Only three of the platforms included in the ranking demonstrated evidence of workers earning above the current living wage of R41 an hour.