Gig workers are at the front line of pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic will affect the most vulnerable groups in our society. That includes those in casual or insecure employment

who face two possibilities in the reality of social distancing: loss of income, or exposure to the virus through the front-line nature of their work.

The Fairwork Project this week released a set of scores that evaluate gig economy platforms such as Uber, SweepSouth and OrderIn against a set of fair work standards. In the current crisis, their findings about the situation of gig workers in South Africa are more relevant than ever.

There is evidence that platform workers worldwide have unfair work conditions and lack benefits and protections afforded to employees. To understand the state of gig work in South Africa, Fairwork, a collaboration between the universities of Oxford, Cape Town (UCT), the Western Cape and Manchester, assessed 11 of the 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 10. GetTOD, SweepSouth and NoSweat are tied at the top of this year’s league table with eight out of 10 points.

“Work in the gig economy is often unsafe and insecure,” said Jean-Paul van Belle of the department of information systems at UCT. “Because of these inequities, the Fairwork team has taken action to highlight unfair labour practices in the gig economy, and to assist workers, consumers and regulators as they hold platforms to account.”


Fairwork’s research is even more relevant with the spread of Covid-19. Gig workers such as rideshare and delivery drivers are likely to play an essential role in the coming weeks and months. They are more vulnerable to exposure to Covid-19. The lack of sick pay means that if they need to self-isolate, they face severe financial insecurity. This may lead many to continue to work, which could also spread the virus.

This emphasises the need for platforms and government to ensure that gig workers and those who can’t afford to stay at home are protected. Uber South Africa has indicated it will follow the international company policy of compensating workers required to self-isolate for 14 days.

Most platforms in South Africa paid the minimum wage. But, when workers’ expenses (such as transport costs) were taken into account, evidence could only be found that six out of the 11 platforms paid workers above the minimum wage.

Growing numbers of South Africans find work in the gig economy, and digital platforms are frequently heralded as a solution to mass unemployment. But the employment problem is not simply the quantity of jobs but also the quality of jobs being created.

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.

Fairwork works directly with platform managers to suggest avenues for improvement. One accomplishment was securing guarantees from NoSweat and GetTOD that all jobs will pay above the living wage,

calculated at R6800 a month. GetTOD has announced its willingness to work with a union or workers’ association.

Fairwork gives consumers information so they can choose who to use, thus putting pressure on platforms to improve working conditions. Fairwork also speaks to government about extending legal protections to all platform workers.

Ultimately, the project aims to support workers in collectively asserting their rights.

Dr Kelle Howson is a postdoctoral researcher on the Fairwork project

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories

Biodiversity is crucial for South Africa’s food security

Farming must embrace sustainable, regenerative agriculture practices to secure our future

‘Where the governments see statistics, I see the faces of my friends’

Yvette Raphael describes herself as a ‘professional protester, sjambok feminist and hater of trash’. Government officials would likely refer to her as ‘a rebel’. She’s fought for equality her entire life, she says. And she’s scared of no one

Q&A Sessions: Frank Chikane on the rainbow where colours never meet

Reverend Frank Chikane has just completed six years as the chairperson of the Kagiso Trust. He speaks about corruption, his children’s views and how churches can be mobilised

Covid-19 stems ‘white’ gold rush

The pandemic hit abalone farmers fast and hard. Prices have dropped and backers appear to be losing their appetite for investing in the delicacy

Companies need to plan for the future through skills development

COMMENT: Businesses need to focus on the training the so-called soft skills needed to respond to an ever-changing environment

God just got his hand back

Diego Armando Maradona, the greatest footballer to wear the number 10 jersey, has left the field
Advertising

Subscribers only

Q&A Sessions: Frank Chikane on the rainbow where colours never...

Reverend Frank Chikane has just completed six years as the chairperson of the Kagiso Trust. He speaks about corruption, his children’s views and how churches can be mobilised

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

More top stories

Shabnim Ismail bowls her way into the record books Down...

The night before Australia’s Women’s Big Bash League (WBBL) final, fiery South African fast bowler Shabnim Ismail lay awake pondering how...

Hawks make arrest in matric maths paper leak

Themba Daniel Shikwambana, who works at a printing company, was granted bail and is due to return to court in January

Andile Lungisa: Early parole for the house of truth

Disgraced Nelson Mandela Bay councillor Andile Lungisa calls for a change of leadership in the ANC immediately after being released on parole

War of words at Zondo commission: ‘Grow up Mr Gordhan,...

The cross-examination of the public enterprises minister by Tom Moyane’s lawyers at the state capture inquiry went on well into overtime on Monday evening
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…