We are pleased to announce that Pollicy has joined the Fairwork project, and will assess the fairness of working conditions in the Ugandan platform economy. The Fairwork Uganda Team are based at Pollicy, a feminist collective of technologists, data scientists, creatives and academics.
The team will be led by Principal Investigator Principal Investigator Neema Iyer and lead researcher Bonnita Nyamwire.
Although COVID-19 has forced major changes in the way we live, for the time being at least, it hass also accelerated our reliance on digital technologies. For many workers, the days of keeping a stable job are almost gone as year after year employment institutions reduce the number of employees while others close. At the same time, instability in the job market is one of the main drivers of the growth of the platform economy.
In Uganda, just like elsewhere in the world, COVID-19 has resulted in major changes to the economy. We have seen a shift from engaging in physical spaces to increased reliance upon digital technologies. Specifically, the gig economy has enabled the freedom to work online as well as opening up a new revenue generation system in the country. Further, the gig economy is rapidly taking shape, supported by the digital shift that continues to aid people in accessing employment away from physical offices and traditional work setups.
Additionally, the gig economy remains a key source of employment for workers in Uganda where there are high levels of unemployment in the formal sector. For example, about 60% of younger people in the country (who make up the largest proportion of the population in the country), are involved in gig economy after a massive loss of jobs due to COVID-19. The informal sector has been the main driver of employment growth in Uganda for decades, absorbing rising urban populations. While this sector is unproductive and lacks employee protections, it employs a substantial percentage of Uganda’s population.
The government faces a challenge: finding creative ways for gig workers to gain from the improvements in efficiency and productivity that digital platforms create, and accommodating the progressive inclusion of informal enterprise in the formal economy to generate value for all stakeholders. A challenges both for individuals and companies using the gig economy model is that the current labour legislation is not conducive to the creation of decent working conditions for workers in the informal sector.
Thus the big question as to the future of work in Uganda may not be whether jobs will be formal or informal, but how digital platforms and new technologies might make this type of work more productive on the one hand and provide better conditions for workers on the other.
Fairwork Uganda will contribute to the improvement of working conditions in the gig economy and help hold platform companies to account for unfair labour practices. By rating prominent Ugandan platforms against Fairwork’s five principles of fair work, the team will provide an independent assessment of the working conditions offered by Ugandan digital labour platforms. Moreover, a series of engagements under the Fairwork project will provide insights to address the Ugandan economy’s transition and indicate pathways to greater job security. Additionally, the team will bring together a range of stakeholders such as the managers of digital labour platforms and policymakers to facilitate discussions about protections and benefits for gig economy workers that more closely resemble those enjoyed by employees working in the formal sector.