gig economy
Close up of mature man using ride sharing application on smartphone for ordering taxi on city street.

Working for Uber, MrD and other digital platforms is not fair after all. This has been revealed by a newly launched report by the Fairwork Project. The report highlights the precarious nature of work in the gig economy. The sustained impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to present challenges to South Africa’s economy. Unfortunately, the impact of the pandemic has been felt disproportionately by those who work outside of formal employment, particularly the rising number of workers who rely on gig platforms for income.

Digital labour platforms hold the potential to reduce South Africa’s sky-high unemployment and inequality, with an estimated 30 000 workers engaged in location-based platform work like taxi driving, delivery and cleaning. However, there is growing evidence that platform workers worldwide face unfair work conditions, and lack the benefits and protections afforded to employees.

“Work in the gig economy is 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,” said Professor Jean-Paul van Belle, Department of Information Systems, University of Cape Town.

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 twelve of the country’s largest digital labour platforms against five principles of fairness – fair pay, fair conditions, fair contracts, fair management, and fair representation – giving each a fairness rating out of ten.

GetTOD leads the 2021 table with nine points, while M4Jam, SweepSouth, and NoSweat are tied in second place with eight out of ten points. Indeed, the top six platforms in the 2021 global ranking were South African owned and led.

The 2021 report also highlights some of the changes within the gig economy during the sustained lockdowns of 2020 and 2021. While the food delivery sector has increased, the lockdowns, curfews and alcohol bans have had a significant impact on the e-hailing sector. Similarly, in-person service delivery platforms, such as domestic work and handman services, have been challenged by travel restrictions, social distancing and other COVID safety measures.

Nonetheless, regardless of the sector in which gig workers operate, all workers are more vulnerable to exposure to COVID-19 due to their inability to work from home. Furthermore, the lack of sick pay for many workers means that if they need to self-isolate, they face severe financial insecurity. Without UIF or sick pay, gig workers have no safety net.

To view the report Fairwork South Africa Ratings 2021: Labour Standards in the Gig Economy, please visit https://fair.work/en/fw/homepage/Editor@tech-talk.co.za

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