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South Africa’s COVID-19 crisis brings gig economy workers into sharper focus

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This week many South Africans are choosing to work remotely and practice social distancing in the wake of the recent coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and its declaration as a national disaster by president Cyril Ramaphosa.

This has resulted in many people panic buying at retailers for essentials, but will also likely lead to an increase of gig economy services such as Uber, SweepSouth and OrderIn, as South Africans try not to risk travelling outside of their homes in the coming weeks.

But what about those people dependent on the gig economy as their primary source of income, how will they cope as a result of COVID-19?

Fair is fair?

This is what the Fairwork Project recently looked into, publishing a report that assessed 11 of the country’s largest digital labour platforms against five principles of fairness – fair pay, fair conditions, fair contracts, fair management, and fair representation – giving each a fairness rating out of 10.

The Fairwork Project conducted said research thanks to a collaboration with University of Oxford, University of Manchester, University of the Western Cape (UWC) and University of Cape Town (UCT).

“Work in the gig economy is often unsafe and insecure. Workers lack protections afforded to regular employees and are vulnerable to unfair practices like arbitrary termination, often based on inequitable regimes of customer ratings,” explains Professor Jean-Paul van Belle from the Department of Information Systems at UCT.

“Because of these inequities, the Fairwork team has taken action to highlight unfair labour practices in the gig economy, and to assist workers, consumers and regulators as they hold platforms to account,” he added.

The researchers note that gig workers such as rideshare and delivery drivers are likely to play an essential role in the response over the coming weeks and months.

That means that those workers are more vulnerable to exposure to COVID-19. Furthermore, the lack of sick pay for many workers means that if they need to self-isolate, they face severe financial insecurity, according to the Fairwork Project.  

This may lead many to continue to work despite being exposed to COVID-19 or showing symptoms which could also, unfortunately, spread the virus. Without UIF or sick pay, gig workers have no safety net, the researchers stress.

What’s being done?

This emphasises the need for platforms and government to ensure that gig workers and those who are currently financially unable to stay at home are protected, they add.

As far as what local platforms are doing, the Fairwork Project says Uber South Africa has indicated that it will follow the international company policy of compensating workers required to self-isolate for 14 days.

That said, precise details of exactly who will be covered, and to what extent, is not known at this stage.

We too reached out to Uber Eats last week to find out if there has been an increase in the use of the service as a result of COVID-19, as well as how delivery drivers are being assisted.

At the time the firm had no statistics as to usage, but they did offer up this statement.

“We are always working to help keep everyone who uses Uber safe. We have a dedicated global team, guided by the advice of a consulting public health expert, working to respond in every market where we operate around the world. We remain in close contact with local public health authorities and will continue to follow their guidance to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” a spokesperson told us.

How that position has changed since the national disaster status was announced, remains to be seen.

Looking at the numbers

In terms of how gig economy platforms ranked in the Fairwork Project’s latest report, GetTOD, No Sweat and SweepSouth, all tied for first place among the 11 companies that were looked at.

Of potential concern was Uber and Uber Eats, each receiving a ranking of 4 and 3 respectively. Whether that ranking would change once greater clarity is created with regard to assistance for workers, remains to be seen.

One of the other interesting findings from the Fairwork Project report is the notion of quantity versus quality, when it comes to addressing the job crisis in SA and the role the gig economy plays in this.

“Growing numbers of South Africans find work in the gig economy, and digital platforms are frequently heralded as a solution to mass unemployment. However, the employment challenge facing South Africa is not simply the quantity of jobs but also the quality of jobs being created,” the research team points out.

“Decent work and job creation are not mutually exclusive. This is why, by bringing workers and other stakeholders to the table, Fairwork is developing an enforceable code of basic worker rights that are compatible with sustainable business models,” adds Dr Kelle Howson, Oxford Internet Institute researcher.

The next steps

Following the release of its findings, now Fairwork is looking to engage with local gig economy platforms to ensure that their workers, employees and users are all working towards a better model for all involved.

“This is the second annual round of Fairwork Project ratings for South African platforms, and the impact is beginning to build. Fairwork engages directly with platform managers to suggest avenues for improvement, and one of their accomplishments includes securing guarantees from two platforms – NoSweat and GetTOD – that all jobs they post will pay above the living wage, calculated at R6,800 per month,” researchers highlighted.

“Furthermore, after working with the Fairwork Project, GetTOD has publicly announced its willingness to engage and negotiate with a union or workers’ association, including this in its terms and conditions,” they added.

Fairwork also seeks to disseminate enough information to consumers, so they can be intentional about the platforms they choose to interact with, thus contributing to pressure on platforms to improve their working conditions and their scores.

To find out more about the Fairwork Project and its latest report, head here.

[Image – Photo by Jacques Nel on Unsplash]

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How Credit Unions Can Capture the Gig Economy Market

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male gig worker delivering food Source: Shutterstock.

From freelancers to Uber drivers and even independent photographers, writers and consultants, members of the gig economy keep the world of commerce spinning. Who are these trailblazers on the road to an independent living? Research has indicated that a single identity is hard to pinpoint.

What we can glean from the Gig Economy Data Hub are mostly demographics. There are more gig workers in the 16- to 35-year-old age group than you’d find in a traditional workforce. However, younger generations have not cornered the freelance market. When it comes to the providers of skilled services, the average age skyrockets to over 55, according to data from ADP.

The gig economy represents a growing and vibrant sector. The “Freelancing in America” study conducted by Edelman Intelligence told us that 57 million people were freelancing in 2020, making up 36% of the U.S. workforce.

Given the size of the market, gig workers are a new frontier for credit unions, and represent an area where challenger banks are already actively courting new commercial customers. For traditional financial institutions to seize a share of the growing pie, they must first evolve strong digital capabilities and a deeper understanding of the freelancer in today’s economy.

Understanding the Needs of Today’s Gig Worker

While freelancing is often depicted as a career journey born of necessity, three in 10 gig workers have started freelancing by choice. Fifty-nine percent make more money doing so, according to the Edelman Intelligence survey.

Also revealed by the Edelman Intelligence study was the fact that the gig economy isn’t just driven by Uber Drivers and Door Dash delivery personnel. Fifty percent of freelancers provide a professional service, such as computer programming or consulting.

But members of the gig economy do have one thing in common. Their needs when it comes to financial products and services align more closely to those of a business owner than a traditional worker or a consumer.

For one thing, gig workers must track income and business expenses in order to pay quarterly estimated taxes. To handle financial tasks like these, freelancers tend to turn to third-party solutions, such as cloud-based applications that provide anytime, anywhere access.

There is just one problem. While these solutions are slick and streamlined, there is little a freelancer can do when faced with complicated questions or the need to plan holistically for the financial future of their business.

As a result, many freelancers walk a thin line between personal and professional financial management. Sole proprietors are able to funnel freelance income through their individual tax return, so there is a tendency to utilize personal accounts for business expenses.

This constant interplay between business and commercial finances can leave gig workers prone to risk. For example, a marketing consultant who fails to notice a business charge on a personal credit card may neglect to deduct it as a business expense. That means the freelancer is paying higher taxes than are necessary.

On the other hand, a tendency to stringently report every legitimate business expenditure to reduce the current tax burden comes back to haunt gig workers later in life in the form of reduced Social Security benefits.

Since the operating model of most traditional financial institutions is based on relationship building and customer or member support, credit unions are distinctly positioned to own the freelance market, if they can get a few things right.

A Financial Institution for the Freelancer

According to Hussein Ahmed, founder and CEO of Challenger Bank Oxygen, some traditional financial institutions have failed to grow their lines of service to meet the needs of the gig worker. “That’s leaving the newest generation of workers and those who are self-employed short on options,” he said in a statement to PYMNTS.com.

The slower response from traditional credit unions to the needs of the gig worker is also opening a door of opportunity for challenger banks like Oxygen. In May 2020, Oxygen rolled out a new platform dedicated to the needs of gig workers. Accessed through a mobile app, it provides freelancers with a one stop shop for managing both business and personal finances, all through their smartphone.

Likewise, challenger Indi has created a banking solution aimed at freelancers. It’s – you guessed it – another app, and it offers many of the features freelancers crave, including the ability to track expenses and even save for taxes.

While challenger banks like Oxygen and Indi demonstrate an understanding for the gig worker’s way of life, platforms like these have still not evolved to meet the full range of products and services a freelancer needs from a financial institution.

Beyond the daily banking requirements of the freelancer are cash flow concerns, particularly as the COVID-19 pandemic reduces demand for services. According to the study conducted by the Edelman Institute, 44% of freelancers had realized a drop in income due to impacts of the pandemic.

Situations like these make access to credit important for the freelance worker, but traditional underwriting methods aren’t in sync with current working models, where infrequent paychecks don’t automatically translate to high risk.

Fortunately, with digital tools, traditional institutions are best equipped to serve the gig economy. Open APIs make it possible for credit unions to plug and play the full range of services that freelancers need to manage their financial outcomes. Since products hosted by APIs can connect to existing core data, it’s easy to provide access to both the personal and business side of the freelancer’s finances.

More importantly, as freelancers interact with digital products and services, the data they generate can be used for a variety of purposes, most importantly to fuel lending solutions that support freelancer growth.

Best of all, when a freelancer needs to walk through the complexities of their finances, there is always an informed advisor just a branch or phone call away.

As the gig economy continues to grow, credit unions are uniquely positioned to meet the needs of non-traditional workers by adopting the range of digital solutions necessary to keep both their institutions and the freelancer competitive.

Michael Abare

Michael Abare is Senior Product Manager for Finastra in Austin, Texas.

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Gig worker advocacy organization expands into Chicago

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Dive Brief:

  • Uber and Lyft drivers in Chicago now have the option of joining a local chapter of a national driver advocacy organization. Independent Drivers Guild (IDG) announced the launch of a branch in the city to advocate for “fair pay, benefits, gig worker rights and protections, including driver and delivery worker safety issues and an appeals process to fight unfair deactivations,” the organization said on Twitter Jan. 7.
  • IDG is affiliated with the Machinists Union and aims to advocate for benefits, rights and protections for drivers, according to the organization. Local Gig Workers Matter organizers who supported rideshare drivers amid the coronavirus pandemic and helped them to advocate for their rights in the state legislature will expand their role through IDG Chicago, the organization announced. 
  • The expansion into Chicago will allow IDG to advocate for “tens of thousands” of drivers in addition to the more than 200,000 drivers across Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, the organization stated in the announcement. With a focus on “new 21st century organizing models, we can achieve tremendous changes for the drivers in Chicago and Illinois,” Executive Director of IDG Brendan Sexton said in a statement.

Dive Insight:

The gig economy is actually getting a boost amid the financial uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Since March, GigSmart saw a 460% increase in hourly gig postings even as some companies were forced to lay off workers, the mobile staffing app reported in November. An increase in contingent work will play a role in shaping people strategy in the near future, according to a Gartner report released in June. Employers will continue to expand their use of contingent workers to save money and maintain more flexibility, the firm reported.

Some gig workers such as rideshare drivers are seeking more protections and benefits amid the pandemic. Select states have enacted gig worker protections. In October, a state appeals court in California affirmed the lower court’s ruling that Uber and Lyft must reclassify drivers as employees.

In the past few years, rideshare drivers who turned to unions for advocacy have seen some progress. The Machinists Union helped New York drivers form the IDG, and the organization began representing Uber drivers in 2017. The same year, Uber rolled out the tipping option to its app in 121 cities; and New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission passed a proposed rule requiring ridesharing services to add a tipping option. In 2018, the city passed the first minimum wage rate for ride-share drivers, of $17.22 per hour, following a two-year worker-led campaign by IDG, according to the organization. 

The incoming administration will likely support a union-friendly environment for workers. President-Elect Joe Biden’s platform “encourages and incentivizes unionization and collective bargaining.” Biden nominated Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as labor secretary Jan. 8. Walsh is the former president of Laborers’ Union Local 223 in Boston.



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Instacart to offer gig workers $25 if they get COVID-19 vaccination | The Mighty 790 KFGO

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(Reuters) – Grocery delivery company Instacart said on Thursday it would pay $25 to its over half-a-million gig workers if they chose to take time off to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

The company, which has been lobbying government agencies for its delivery workers to get early access to vaccines, said eligible part-time employees such as in-store shoppers will also be offered the stipend starting February 1.

Gig workers are independent contractors who perform on-demand services, including delivering groceries. Instacart is not mandating its workers to get vaccinated.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people over 75 and essential workers are scheduled to receive the vaccine in a later phase, after healthcare workers and nursing home residents.

Dollar General Corp said on Wednesday it will offer frontline employees four hours worth of pay after they get the vaccine, while Walmart Inc has agreements with U.S. states to administer the vaccine to its employees should they choose to receive it once they are eligible.

Instacart’s gig economy based workforce, who are not given health insurance and offered limited sick pay, has grown 150% over the last year as its business boomed from people turning more to online shopping during the health crisis.

Reuters reported in November that Instacart had picked Goldman Sachs to lead preparations for its IPO, which could come this year and value it at around $30 billion.

(Reporting by Uday Sampath in Bengaluru; Editing by Krishna Chandra Eluri)

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