Navigating the Challenges of the Platform Economy in Kenya: Insights from a Stakeholder Workshop

Posted on 05.12.2023
Driver looking at map on phone

In August, the Fairwork research team in Kenya hosted a crucial stakeholder workshop, delving into the theme, “Is there any Progress in the Platform Economy in Kenya?” The workshop brought together a diverse panel of experts who explored the state of Kenya’s platform economy. We explore the key takeaways and insights shared by the panelists and participants.

Kenya’s labour landscape has been slow to adapt, even though the platform economy continues to flourish. Labour laws and regulations are struggling to keep pace with the evolution especially in the digital economy. The high cost of living, driven by soaring fuel prices, has taken a toll on platform workers, leading to longer hours and work attrition. Additionally, despite efforts to introduce regulations for platforms by the regulatory body, NTSA, compliance remains a contentious issue for some platforms.

A dive into each Fairwork principle revealed that the platform economy is not where it needs to be, there have been a number of changes and regulations introduced, however, platform workers are still facing a myriad of challenges and there is more that can be done to improve the platform economy.

1. Fair Pay

There is a big challenge in defining fair pay in the platform economy. The government has attempted to ensure fair pay through a uniform 18% platform commission cap, however, enforcement has been lacking. Platform workers have held numerous strikes pushing for change but there is little impact felt, the government’s response has been sluggish.

“This is a new form of work, and the laws currently in place govern workers who are employees… The challenge is how to define pay for a worker who bears the costs and still pays himself.”- Bill Mutoro-Assistant General Secretary and the Director of Digital Organising and ICT at the Transport Workers’ Union Kenya

Platform workers are advocating for a fair and transparent pay and pricing mechanism; and despite having not succeeded in attaining fair pay, there are still ways platform workers can take action against platforms that are disregarding the NTSA regulations.

“Drivers can file formal complaints with NTSA, consider legal action against platforms violating the commission cap or engage in negotiations with platforms”- Mary Ndege-Advocate of the High Court of Kenya

2. Fair Conditions

In the previous Fairwork ranking, only two out of 9 platforms were able to provide evidence of fair conditions. A representative of the Transport Workers Union shed light on the conditions associated with fair conditions.

“The industry is unregulated and therefore making it difficult for platforms to provide safety nets such as insurance and safety gear.”- Agnes Mwongera-Driver, Representative at TAWU

Additionally, platforms categorise drivers as independent contractors¹, limiting their ability to enjoy some level of benefits. To address this, driver associations and unions are raising awareness and advocating for improved working conditions for platform workers in Kenya.

3. Fair Contracts

Platforms can enhance stability and increase platform workers satisfaction by diversifying contract options depending on the market demand. Additionally, transparency and clarity in contracts along with worker involvement in contract formulation are crucial for addressing worker dissatisfaction and ensuring fair contracts.

4. Fair Management

Issues of discrimination and client bias is a challenge for platform workers on these platforms. Platforms prioritising passengers’ complaints over drivers’ appeals often leads to deactivation of drivers’ accounts on these platforms. This has contributed greatly to multi-apping as drivers strive to make steady income. Drivers need a voice in decision making-processes to address such challenges.

“Stakeholders can assist by having roundtable discussions where everyone’s say is heard, including the drivers.”-Julius Odongo-Chairperson,Organisation of Online Workers

5. Fair Representation

The constitution of Kenya guarantees freedom of association, but challenges persist in worker representation. Platform workers recognise themselves as independent contractors, however, this affects their rights. Therefore, unions are creating awareness and educating workers on the need to recognise themselves as employees. Additionally, the Ministry of Labour should review the labour laws to accommodate the dynamic gig economy.

Further, the discussion on representation for women in the platform economy shows that women are now taking up positions in the drivers groups. Platforms are also now creating options on their applications for women platform workers and women clients to increase a sense of security for both users. Additionally, women are joining their male counterparts in demonstrations and meetings to ensure they are actively involved in discussions that also affect them.

What needs to be done to improve the platform economy?

  • Making Regulations More Effective

To make NTSA regulations more effective, workers need to organise themselves so that they can build a strong voice to push for enforcement.

Workers should file for complaints and have coordinated and concerned efforts from stakeholders to drive policy change.Panellists suggested that workers organise themselves, submit formal complaints, and collaborate with stakeholders for policy change.

  • Prioritising safety for platform workers

Safety is still a major concern among platform workers, especially women. Currently women are employing coping mechanisms to ensure their safety as they wait for platforms to start actively prioritising their safety.

“Most female drivers do not work at night. Women drivers have groups where they share their rides with their colleagues who follow up on the rides to ensure safety. Women drivers also take screenshots of rides as evidence for harassment.”- Agnes*

Currently, unions are actively researching and working with driver associations to hold workshops and launch campaigns to advocate for all rights that can be afforded to them.

The stakeholder workshop shed light on the complex challenges faced by platform workers in Kenya. The insights and discussions underscore the need for ongoing dialogue and collaboration among all stakeholders, including the government, platforms, and workers, to address the challenges and foster a fair and sustainable platform economy in Kenya.

[1] International Labour Organization, 2021, “Platform work and the employment relationship”