Fairwork exposes exploitation in gig economy amid regulatory vacuum

The foundation rates platforms on how well they fare on core work standards and publishes a league table of big SA platforms’ performance

RIA (Alison Gillwald and Anri van der Spuy) and Oxford Internet Institute (Mark Graham and Sai Englert).

A group of Uber drivers in Cape Town use social media messaging platform WhatsApp to share information about where their cars can be washed at discounted rates; where the latest deals for tyres or other car maintenance services are to be found; and who is looking for drivers or partner slots on the platform. But their messages also increasingly lament stories of colleagues suffering stabbings, shootings and murder as the app that has hailed new opportunities for work starts being used to hail crime.

In countries such as SA with high unemployment levels (officially 27%), “gig work” — piecemeal work structured through apps that connect workers with users — offers ample opportunities for work outside the strictures of traditional labour markets. But work for the likes of Uber (ride-hailing), SweepSouth (domestic services) and UpWork (freelance work) also raises red flags regarding the potential exploitation of vulnerable workers. Will tackling SA’s unemployment problem through potentially harmful online labour practices do more harm than good in the long run?

Perhaps not. Relatively few Africans are drawing dividends from the gig economy, estimated to be worth $5bn globally in transactions annually . Research ICT Africa (RIA) research shows only 2% of the population aged 15 years and older are working on these platforms.

Of the 53% of the SA population who use the internet, only 6% work via online or microwork platforms — a small percentage high-value digital workers but the majority undertaking manual labour sourced through a digital platform. This is fewer than in Mozambique (7.8% of only 10% with internet access) or Nigeria (7.6% of the less than 30% online in 2017 — mostly unemployed graduates).

This article was first published on Business Day online – read the full article here .