The third Fairwork report for South Africa continues to chart the evolution of the national gig economy, most recently impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This year’s ratings show that platform workers, as in so many countries worldwide, continue to face unfair work conditions and lack the benefits and protections afforded to other workers.
The sustained impact of the COVID pandemic presented additional challenges to an already highly unequal South Africa economy. The consequences of the pandemic were felt disproportionately by those who work outside of formal employment, including the rising number of workers who rely on digital labour platforms for income. Certain sectors of the gig economy have been particularly impacted by the sustained lockdowns. While the food delivery sector has increased; the lockdowns, curfews and alcohol bans have had a significant impact on the e-hailing sector and in-person service delivery platforms, such as domestic work and handyman services. Overall, gig workers were generally more vulnerable to exposure to COVID-19 due to their inability to work from home. Furthermore, the lack of sick pay for many gig workers means that if they need to self-isolate, they face severe financial insecurity. Due to their mis-classification as independent contractors, these workers also fell through the cracks of government support schemes, leaving them without a safety net.
The results from our research capture the shortfalls of most platforms in adequately protecting their workers. However, we also highlighted some important steps that certain platforms have been taking to safeguard their workers during the pandemic.
The Fairwork South Africa 2021 ratings evaluate the working conditions in 12 digital labour platforms (Uber, UberEats, Bolt, inDriver, MrD, Droppa, PicUp, getTOD, SweepSouth, NoSweat, M4Jam, SecretAgent) against five global principles of fair work – fair pay, fair conditions, fair contracts, fair management, and fair representation. We gave each platform a fairness rating out of ten, with points awarded only if there is clear evidence that the principle is being met. GetTOD leads the 2021 table with nine points, while M4Jam, SweepSouth, and NoSweat are tied in second place with eight out of ten points. At the bottom of the table, there is Droppa with 2 points, Bolt and inDriver with 1 point, and SecretAgent with 0 points. Interestingly, the top six platforms in the 2021 ranking were all South African owned and led. Meanwhile, overseas platforms like Uber and Bolt were found to fail to meet basic labour standards in the country.
- Fair Pay: 6 platforms could evidence that workers earn at least the minimum wage after costs (R21.69/hour). However, only 3 platforms demonstrated they pay a living wage (R41/hour). We also found workers often have to work very long hours to cover expenses.
- Fair Conditions: 8 of the 12 platforms were able to evidence some action that they take to protect workers from risks that arise on their jobs. In particular, the majority of platforms were able to evidence some form of COVID-19 response, such as providing personal protective equipment (PPE). In contrast to previous years, there was also solid evidence that 6 platforms had made efforts to more actively improve working conditions, by providing loss-of-earnings compensation during lockdowns, educational opportunities or affordable insurance for workers.
- Fair Contracts: 8 platforms proved to have clear and accessible terms and conditions. However, only 4 platforms were able to evidence that the employment status of their workers is clearly defined and that they do not unreasonably exclude liability on the part of the platform.
- Fair Management: Arbitrary termination or deactivation is a big concern for gig workers, who lack the recourse available to formal employees. We found 8 of the platforms had codified their deactivation policies, providing greater recourse to workers. In addition, a number of platforms have issued public statements in support of equality, diversity and inclusion.
- Fair Representation: Being able to freely organise under recognised collective bodies is a key workplace right. In the South African gig economy, there is still much that could be done to improve conditions in this regard, both in terms of organization and recognition. Seven of the platforms could point to meaningful worker voice mechanisms. However, only two platforms have published public statements committing to recognise a collective body should one be organised by their workers.
The 2021 ratings saw several platforms improving their scores from previous years, with M4Jam NoSweat, GetTod and SweepSouth agreeing to implement or formalise policies to comply with our principles. However, beyond these positive examples, the 2021 Fairwork South Africa ratings show that there is still much to be done in order to make platform work fair in South Africa. Gig workers, often from vulnerable backgrounds, continue to do a work that is dangerous, precarious, and pays barely enough to survive. Platforms have the ability to improve conditions for their workers, while continuing to provide income opportunities. While some might do this voluntarily, unsurprisingly, many don’t.
The low scores of some of the most popular platforms in the country clearly demonstrates the need for regulatory reform and enforcement to ensure gig workers are no longer falling through the cracks. By raising awareness of the conditions of gig workers in the South Africa and across the world, Fairwork aims to assist workers, consumers and regulators in making platforms accountable for their practices, and creating a world of fair platform work.
The Fairwork Pledge
As part of Fairwork’s commitment to making platforms accountable for their practices, we are launching the Fairwork Pledge. The pledge aims to encourage other organisations to support best labour practices, guided by the five principles of fair work.
Organisations like universities, schools, businesses, and charities who make use of platform labour can make a difference by supporting the best labour practices, guided by our five principles of fair work. Organisations have the option to sign up to the Pledge as an official Fairwork Supporter or an official Fairwork Partner. Those signing up to be a Supporter must demonstrate their support for fairer platform work publicly and provide their staff with appropriate resources to make informed decisions in their supply chains. Becoming a Fairwork Partner entails making a public commitment to implement changes in their own practices, such as committing to using better-rated platforms when there is a choice.
We are proud to announce the New Economics Foundation as our first official Fairwork Partner and the Good Business Charter as the first official Fairwork Supporter. Get your organisation to sign up today!