In recent years, discussions around decent conditions and the formalisation of platform work have become critical matters of concern in Colombia. Since 2018, six bills (projects of law) have been presented to the Colombian congress aiming at regulating issues related to the working conditions and Social Security of gig workers. In contrast, platform work is often discussed in terms of its accelerated expansion, or its ‘celebrated’ role during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially regarding courier workers, in helping to maintain other supply chains.
The most important digital delivery platform in Colombia, in size and political influence, is Rappi. Rappi has approximately 25.000 associated workers in Colombia (Patiño, 2020) and around 60% of them are Venezuelan migrants (Jaramillo Jassir, 2020). Other digital platforms have surged over the past ten years in a wide variety of services, including transportation (Uber, Didi, Cabify, Beat), food delivery and courier services (Rappi, Domicilios.com, Uber Eats, Mensajeros Urbanos), housework (HogarU, LaManicurista, Home & Care) and even professional services, such as healthcare (1Doc3). Platforms like Rappi rely heavily on not only young Colombians but also Venezuelan couriers. Colombian Migration Authority estimates that by February 2020, more than 1.8 million Venezuelans live in Colombia (Jaramillo Jassie, 2020). In Colombia, just 44% of Venezuelans (around 800.000 people) have a legal permit while more than 1 million are considered ‘irregular’ migrants by the Colombian government. Thousands of these migrants have found in the digital delivery platforms a chance to make a living in a country with few other working opportunities due to the high unemployment rate (20.2% in July 2020) and large informal economy (40% of GDP in 2018).
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the everyday life of millions of people around the world as well as the global economic activity and supply chains. In Colombia, we experienced prolonged lockdowns since early in the pandemic, mostly in the biggest cities such as Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Barranquilla, in order to slow down the contagion rate and prevent a collapse of the precarious public health system. During the pandemic, platforms delivering food and medicines became essential services to the urban middle class that could afford to work from home.
Colombia offers an interesting case to understand the particular configurations of the gig economy in Latin America and the difficulties that digital workers experience in the fight for their rights in a context of precarious governance, a large informal economy, and high rates of migration. With the launch of Fairwork Colombia, we hope to advance the understanding of the gig economy in Latin America, and the Global South more broadly. The team will evaluate the working conditions of gig workers in the country’s most popular platforms. The project will rate local digital labour platforms against the five Fairwork principles of decent work, with the goal of helping improve the standard of living of platform workers in the country. The Fairwork Colombia project will be implemented in the city of Bogotá by the Programme of Sociology at the Universidad del Rosario in partnership with the School of Medicine at Universidad de los Andes and the Public Health Institute at Pontificia Universidad Javeriana. The project is led by Oscar Javier Maldonado and Derly Yohanna Sanchez. Colombia is the fourth Latin American country to become part of the Fairwork network, joining the teams at Brasil, Chile and Ecuador.
A preliminary result of this collaboration between Universidad del Rosario, Universidad de los Andes y Pontificia Universidad Javeriana is the assembling of a National Network centred on Digitality, Health and Work (PLADTS, acronym in Spanish for ‘Plataformas Digitales, Trabajo y Salud’). The network objective is to provide a public space for workers, academia, policymakers and platform companies to discuss and find together solutions that are beneficial for workers, as well as the rest of stakeholders. The present collaboration with the Fairwork project constitutes a unique opportunity for advancing ongoing research and advocacy efforts to bring about fairer working conditions for digital workers. The Fairwork Colombia team will significantly contribute to this goal by providing a unique combination of national and international evidence and expertise.
Jaramillo Jassir, Ivan (2020) Riders: Entre el desvalor del trabajo y la superación del confinamiento. Bogotá: FESCOL.
Patiño, Linda (2020) “45.000 personas están en lista de espera para ser ‘rappitenderos'” En: El Tiempo, 1st April 2020. https://www.eltiempo.com/tecnosfera/apps/entrevista-con-rappi-sobre-medidas-por-el-coronavirus-479882 (Accessed 5th February 2021)
Observatorio Proyecto Migración Venezuela (2019) Diagnóstico de la migración venezolana en Bogotá. Semana. Available at: https://migravenezuela.com/web/articulo/migrantes-venezolanos-en-bogota/1605 (Accessed 5th February 2021)