Fairwork Uganda hosts first outreach event for platform workers

Posted on 12.07.2023
Fairwork Uganda hosts outreach event for platform workers
Fairwork Uganda hosts outreach event for platform workers

By Bonnita Nyamwire and Bonaventure Saturday 

Fairwork Uganda’s platform worker outreach event was aimed at facilitating debate among platform workers in Uganda on the five (5) Fairwork principles: Fair Pay, Fair Conditions, Fair Contracts, Fair Management and Fair Representation. It was an opportunity to share strategies  on collective bargaining, information on employment laws and contracting (laws and formalities on employment), and to provide attendees with an opportunity to share a comparative analysis of the context in relation to their work., in collaboration with —  a non profit organization which, through the innovative use of digital technology, empowers people with legal advice  to develop solutions for their justice needs—coordinated the event. Additionally, BarefootLaw hosts an mSME (micro, Small, Medium Enterprise) Garage project providing legal information, guidance, and support for micro and small businesses.  

The discussion focussed on employment (laws on employment) and contracting (laws and formalities on employment) in the context of digital platforms operating in Uganda. A total of eighteen platform workers attended the outreach event  held at Ibamba Restaurant in Kampala on Wednesday, 17th May 2023. The participants consisted of ten men and eight women, and represented eight of the twelve platforms that participated in Fairwork Uganda’s research.

The knowledge sharing event began  with  a discussion about workers’ rights, specifically focusing on formalities and laws on employment in Uganda; worker contracts; and later, about  collective worker power and its particular importance to platform workers. The facilitators discussed the significance of contracts in platform work, as they serve as formal acknowledgements of the working relationship while also defining and protecting the duties and responsibilities of both the employer and the employee.. 

Key takeaways from the event included: 

On contracts:

  • In order for contracts to be considered fair,  workers should be able to read and understand the contract, and should be given ample time to do this. Reading the contract thoroughly can  avoid misinformation or terms that were not agreed upon. It is important that platform workers understand what they are agreeing to.
  • The contract should be written in a language that is well understood by most riders, as some of them reported having challenges understanding the ‘fine print’ of their contracts, especially if they are in English only. Workers suggested that platforms should provide workers with contracts in at least one prominent local language in a given country; Luganda  in the case of Uganda, for example. Platforms can also consider providing workers  with language training so as to better interact with clients, who may come from different countries or communities. 
  • Contracts should be accessible to the workers both digitally and in print. Having copies of their contracts ensures more clarity for workers, as many reported referring to them often, both generally and as specific needs arise. 

On collective bargaining:

  • Platform workers understand the power of collective bargaining but currently lack the capacity to meaningfully build on this. 
  • Most of the time, when platform workers  bargain individually, either no response is given or they are penalized  by being deactivated for some time before later being brought back online on the platform to work. 
  • In-country platform offices were emphasized by platform workers as being key in strengthening their collective bargaining power. Where local offices exist, workers are able to organize and appear in person. Workers identified online organizing for collective bargaining as an area about which they need knowledge to be shared. 

Participants further recognized the need to form more meaningful associations that can lead them, as platform workers, to benefit from government programs for workers in the informal sector. Examples include the Parish Development Model (PDM)- Ministry of Local Government and Emyooga Formation of Emyooga SACCOs – Microfinance Support Centre , both of which are presidential initiatives on wealth creation in Uganda. However, participants noted that their efforts to form associations as workers associated with different platforms are hindered by a lack of branding, making it hard to identify colleagues who work on the same platform. 

Platform workers believe that a trade union can be effective if united as a cohesive force. One of the participants elaborated:

“We made an attempt to establish an association, but it failed because the workers saw it as an opportunity to individually benefit from government programs, like the Emyooga program, instead of using the association as a collective platform to address their concerns to the platform administrators. Nevertheless, I firmly believe that if we unite with a common objective and come together as one, the association can be successful and effective.”

Participants recognized the need for government regulation to control or regulate the platform economy on which they can validate their complaints and their bargaining power. 

Ultimately, participants expressed positive views about the platforms, highlighting benefits such as insurance coverage, bonuses, and awards. They specifically mentioned the availability of subsidized fuel for platform workers. Furthermore, participants acknowledged that their ability to earn income through these platforms allowed them to meet their basic needs. Participants concluded by calling for more outreach events with platform workers to share strategies for securing fair working conditions and spreading information about the Fairwork principles in the context of Uganda.