As a new member of the global Fairwork network, the Lagos Business School (LBS) hosted the first stakeholder workshop on Nigeria’s gig economy on the 28 June 2022.
The Fairwork network is an action-research project coordinated by the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford and the WZB Berlin Social Science Center. The Fairwork project consists of a global network of researchers that evaluates the working conditions of workers in the platform economy. Platforms are assessed and ranked based on five principles of fair work, namely fair pay, fair conditions, fair contracts, fair management and fair representation. The ranking provides platform companies, labour policymakers and the public with the evidence to develop and sustain fair work practices in the gig economy.
At the hybrid stakeholder workshop, gig economy stakeholders, including platform workers and operators, policymakers and regulators, labour unions, media, and academia, engaged in moderated discussions to envision how to build a fairer future of work for Nigerian platform workers based on the five Fairwork principles.
Insights from the session
Regarding fair pay, drivers in the ride-hailing sector shared issues of low profitability considering the costs of maintaining and operating their assets. These workers also pointed at the problem of longer rides due to busy traffic and bad roads, and other factors beyond their control like the rising fuel prices. Overall, platform workers did not feel they receive fair pay, which contrasted with the assertions made by some of the platform companies present. A platform company pointed at market factors considered in setting prices, like consumer affordability and willingness to pay, as the reason for limiting drivers’ earnings. Price inelasticity, especially in cities like Lagos that where many people spend up to 50% of their income on transportation, limits the price setting levers. However, drivers still clamoured for a reduction and transparency in platform commissions and for the fares to reflect the rising inflation in the country.
During the workshop, a debate took place about the meaning of fair conditions for both platform workers and platform companies. On the one hand, platform companies confirmed access to insurance and the provision of an SOS button for their workers as a critical risk mitigating strategy. They also stressed that the platform companies now play a vital role in the security and safety of their workers rather than the government. On the other hand, platform workers explained how they experience multiple risks at work and do not feel safe and protected by the platforms. Platform workers expressed the lack of safety nets and an ineffective SOS button which is not responsive in critical times.
During the fair contracts’ discussion, legal professionals highlighted the lack of legislation for contract workers or people working on a contract basis. Fundamentally, riders sign a contract or agree to the terms and conditions set by the platform. But do workers really understand the content of the contract they are signing? It is also worth noting that the terms and conditions are regularly subject to change and sometimes without prior notice, making it challenging for drivers to keep up. Discussions on contracts and the terms and conditions of service must consider global practices as well as understand local or systemic challenges. The platform is responsible for looking at the systemic challenges and adjusting their terms and conditions accordingly. Platform workers are an invaluable resource, and many of them are unemployed graduates looking for a means of livelihood, but not enough attention is given to their welfare.
Similarly, platform workers shared their experiences of (un)fair management. For instance, a female driver shared a testimony of how she was harassed by a male passenger who brandished a firearm. However, she chose not to report the incident to the platform company because of her knowledge of a similar incident that resulted in the platform company blocking the account of the affected female driver, restricting her access to work. The platform claimed this is the common practice while investigating a report but did not communicate this to the driver. Thus, during the investigation period, this driver lost her livelihood, and the limited communication from the platform company made it more unbearable. This story also shows how the passengers’ experience on these platforms is not the same as what the drivers experience. A blocked passenger can request another ride through another number, but it is not easy for a blocked rider to find alternative work.
Fair representation: according to the representative from the National Union of Professional App-based Transport Workers of Nigeria (NUPABWN), gig economy drivers are different from traditional taxi drivers and deserve to be part of a union that represents their interests. However, platform companies only recognise established unions. When asked if there is a law enacting and recognising the union, we learnt that since 2018, they have been formalising the union, but government bureaucracies appear to have stalled the process.
In all, the success of the gig economy as an alternative labour market requires fair practices backed by law. As the Fairwork Nigeria project progresses, we shall not only highlight these domains and seek better conditions for gig workers in the private and public sectors, but also encourage other stakeholders to support fair work practices in the platform economy. One way of doing this is through the Fairwork Pledge. This pledge is open to any organization that commits to supporting the rights of platform workers based on the Fairwork ratings. Learn more at fair.work/pledge
We wish to thank the stakeholders who participated and shared valuable insights on how fairer work can be achieved in the Nigerian platform economy. In no particular order, we appreciate participants from Bolt, CBM, Get Funded Africa, Glovo, Gokada, LBS, Lagos Rides, NITDA, NUPABWN, ONDI, Pack My Load, Uber, Verraki and everyone else who joined the workshop.
For more information and questions on the workshop or about Fairwork, please send an email to email@example.com.