Recapping the Fairwork multistakeholder workshop in Uganda

Posted on 08.02.2023
Group picture of participants in Fairwork Uganda's stakeholder meeting

By Mardiya Siba Yahaya for Pollicy

Platform or gig labour over the past decade has determined our present work practices, especially within the informal sector. Yet, labour laws continue to lag in ensuring that gig workers are protected from exploitative practices and have access to fair working conditions. As Fairwork in collaboration with Pollicy commences its in-depth research within the Ugandan platform economy ecosystem, it became essential to engage in a multistakeholder conversation to design contextualised framings and foundations for the gig economy in the country.  During the discussions, stakeholders addressed the changing nature of labour globally, how Ugandans participate within the current labour market and economy as well as opportunities and challenges that exist within the gig economy in the country.

To frame the theme for the conversation, Dr Kavita Dattani from Fairwork, categorized work in two ways:

  1. Geographically tethered work, or location-based work, that is required to be done in a particular location, for example, delivering food from a restaurant to somebody’s house.
  2. Cloud work platforms or online web-based platforms e.g., hiring someone to do data sorting and translation.

Dr Dattani further explained that Fairwork’s role is to use a three-step methodology — desk review, interviews and worker engagements — to assess the working conditions and hold platforms and companies that rely on gig labour accountable using its five principles. Dr Dattani’s opening speech established the foundations for participants to delve into key topic areas within the Ugandan gig economy.


Stakeholder Deep-dive Into the Fairwork Principles in Uganda

Discussing Fair Pay in the Ugandan Gig Economy

The discussion mainly highlighted the shortcomings of labour policies and regulation

that only focus on traditional and formal forms of work, rather than the evolving nature of work organised online, which can be categorised as informal work making up 90% of Uganda’s economy.

Cynthia Kyofuna of Outbox, an Innovation hub based in Kampala, Uganda that helps new and upcoming African entrepreneurs interested in using technology to build high-growth companies with co-working space, business incubation and technical training programs highlighted that labour is organised in terms of skills versus professionalism to contextualise how workers engage with the sector. These distinctions demonstrate how skilled and ‘unskilled’ workers are engaged in the current labour environment. The growing gig economy in Uganda, according to Kyofuna, allows for some-what flexibility which traditional full-time work does not offer. However, she notes that gig work is organised and characterised by its volatile nature and flexibility. She identified that there is no legal framework or protection for the workers in the gig economy in Uganda. As such, while adhering to the minimum wages is a key step towards fair pay, Kyofuna explains that payment systems should be transparent between the workers. The pay should also meet one’s basic needs and there should be a medium for collective bargaining and monetization.

Meanwhile, other participants pointed out that the minimum wage in Uganda is outdated and was only updated in 1984, thus, on the broader regulation scale requiring essential reforms.

Assessing the Fair Working Conditions

Access to social security, sick pay and health insurance is fundamental to ensuring fair working conditions. The conversation demonstrated that an industry-wide intersection and collaboration were indispensable to ensuring fair working conditions.

Pollicy’s Research Manager, Bonnita Nyamwire explained that working conditions available for full-time workers should be accessible to gig workers whose labour is integral to platform companies’ growth. Nyamwire explained that power is still concentrated in the hands of platforms since they determine the conditions through their opaque algorithms and policies – which workers have less control over. Workers are forced to take on more jobs to afford basic needs and are often in debt. Collectively demonstrating the need to redesign platform work to ensure that workers have access to benefits and protection. In redesigning platform work to centre worker protection, participants shared that a community-led approach would enable collectives to develop mechanisms that extend social protection to gig workers. Medium and small enterprises like Garage put together a community fund as a social protection support for gig workers. Labour regulation and protection also need to be designed from a community action approach where workers are engaged throughout the process.

Framing Fair Contracts: Understanding what a Fair Contract Entails

Fair contracts according to Peninah Igaga of Barefoot law, should include fair pay, fair conditions, fair contracts, fair management and fair representation, criteria which are all-encompassing of the Fairwork principles. Igaga also speaks on the need for the language of contracts to be inclusive and contextualised to allow workers in different locations to fully understand the terms of work. Contracts, as indicated by Igaga, should be specific, have clear timelines and terms of reference, should be in tandem with the law, and be fairly paid and prices should be documented and agreed upon by both parties. Yet, the contracting process and terms and conditions are strict and too many for platform users and riders. Some are forced to agree to proceed with the registration process, which is not an indication of ‘informed’ consent or distributed power. The nature of the gig economy, according to Peninah Igaga, requires the government to step in to regulate the safety and health of gig workers as specified in employment clauses. She also states that policymakers need to identify when gig workers should be categorised as independent contractors and when they should be considered employees.

Fair Management in the Ugandan Gig Economy

Management throughout the session was defined as the practices and processes used to engage and organise workers in a given company. Fair management, on the other hand, is framed by the panellist Dorah Muhanuzi, as principles that ensure workers have fair opportunities, are involved in decision-making processes and contribute to the day-to-day management of the platforms.

Muhanuzi, a representative of the Platform Labour Action (PLA) – a national civil society organisation that works on promoting and protecting vulnerable workers in Uganda – indicated the need for an inclusive and participatory approach to management and dispute resolution in the country’s gig economy. She highlighted that opacity in management decisions and algorithmic black boxes, also influence the constant lack of trust between drivers, riders and passengers.  To address some of the issues workers and users face, they need to have clear reporting procedures and also collaborate with each other during dispute resolutions.

Research conducted by PLA identified that the root cause of most conflict within gig work includes unclear, non-specific and changing regulations and ways of working when workers sign up. Some of these also included unclear work processes and collaboration guidelines, with platforms such as Bolt not having contextualised information for workers in Uganda or transparent organisation hierarchies. Further, Muhanuzi shared that the gig economy reproduces discriminatory gendered practices, with little to no participation from women and other minoritized groups.

Dorah Muhanuzi, leaves with recommendations for fair management processes such as commitment to respect as well as non-discrimination, creating inclusive spaces specially for workers who have been historically marginalised, particularly in the traditional labour economy, and finally, platforms should engage workers in a participatory process to ensure their needs and challenges are addressed while working for the platform.

Fair Representation and Issues with Collective Bargaining in Uganda.

The conversation on fair representation focused on the individualised and alienating nature of gig work that restricts works from collective bargaining or unionising. Platforms have directly blocked unionisation, by either suspending the workers’ accounts or permanently banning workers. Further, it was explained that the imbalance of power that exists between the workers and the platforms makes it difficult for collective bargaining to happen, especially when they can easily lose employment. Yet, traditional workers’ unions have membership requirements such as having full-time contracts that do not consider gig workers in Uganda. Considering that ride-hailing platforms negatively disrupted the taxi and public transport industry, it makes it difficult for the workers to receive industry-wide solidarity and support. In addition, the nature of ride-hailing work which requires drivers and riders to work more hours for a decent income, thus, by design also disrupts attempts to unionise when workers are constantly trying to meet specific quotas.

Finally, the platform’s action against riders who attempt to speak on the issue, discourages other workers hence stifling freedom of association. Given that platforms benefit from reduced fares to stay in competitive markets, ride-hailing workers are only able to benefit from working for said platform through such alternative means.

The workshop concluded with remarks from a representative of the Commissioner of Labour, Industrial Relations and Productivity, within the Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development, Moses Mupapa who commended timely work by Pollicy and Fairwork to promote decent working conditions and environment for gig-workers in Uganda. He highlighted the work of the Ministry in developing the second generation of the decent work country program, which will focus on the following priority areas:

  1. Promoting jobs and enterprise
  2. Promoting rights at work
  3. Extending social protection
  4. Promoting social dialogue.

Finally, Mr Mupapa, indicated that the information and recommendations from the workshop have been noted by the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, and they are keen on further developing partnerships with the stakeholder organisations to ensure an inclusive implementation process.