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The gig economy – will there be anything left?

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NOMPU SIZIBA: Gig economy workers have turned out to be the most vulnerable crop of workers during the Covid-19 lockdown, and this has not only been true of South Africa, but around the world as well. This is the finding of the Fairwork project, a research project that’s been done in collaboration with various South African and foreign university research units. In their conclusions, they’ve called on employment agencies that marry workers with businesses and governments to better safeguard these types of worker. One gig economy platform or work agency that was found to have tried to safeguard such people’s livelihoods was Money4Jam.

I’m joined on the line by Georgie Midgley, the CEO of Money4Jam. Thank you, Georgie, for joining us. Let’s start with some definitions: what sort of workers are considered to be gig-economy workers?

GEORGIE MIDGLEY: Gig-economy workers are essentially people who earn based on outcome of tasks. A good examples would be the Uber driver; when he connects to a passenger, when he completes that ride, he is paid for that gig or that particular piece of work or task. That classifies them as a gig worker. They are generally considered to be independent contractors, not full-time employees.

NOMPU SIZIBA: Right. So as indicative of the report’ title, Fairwork, it looks at issues of fair pay, fair working conditions, fair contracts and so on. It found pretty much that most gig-economy platforms or employment agencies didn’t score very well in this regard, and hence the level of job insecurity experienced by gig-economy workers. Just elaborate on that.

GEORGIE MIDGLEY: Generally, if the tasks are not available, gig workers unfortunately do not earn, which does put them in a very vulnerable position and exposed. So what we have found with this lockdown is that the majority of gig companies have just really shut off the work, which has resulted in all these gig workers losing all their income, and only a couple have tried to make amends. But it’s obviously not easy, and unfortunately gig workers do not have the safety net that permanent employees have.

NOMPU SIZIBA: You and another company, SweepSouth, which hires temp cleaners, were found to be somewhat more humane in dealing with these type of workers during the crisis. Just tell us, as M4Jam, what kind of work do you tend to secure for casual workers, like your gig-economy workers, or what industry do you partner with? And how have you handled the economic and financial mess caused by the lockdown?

GEORGIE MIDGLEY: Money4Jam has local jobbers. They are independent contractors, and there are just over 300 000 of them ready for the right platform. I’m making micro tasks for us, and micro training. But we focus on the micro task – small quick things you can do that take five to ten minutes to complete, and you get paid on outcome. So a good example would be a client who’s wanting to know what if every single spaza shop in the country stocks their goods.

NOMPU SIZIBA: Yes.

GEORGIE MIDGLEY: So an FMCG [fast-moving consumer goods] company. And, instead of sending an auditor around Chicsa, we would mobilise the crowd in those areas and pay the person who actually goes to that spaza to answer on our behalf. We crowd-search information, and we are very focused on wheels. So those who do have quite a large crowd around urban areas, we prefer to prefer to focus most of our jobs on your more outlying areas. We are quite strong in Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape.

So in a lockdown situation like this, obviously we can’t, due to social distancing, do any location-based jobs. They can’t go look at those spazas, taverns, hairdressers. So we will obviously have to shut down for that work, which limits a lot of our jobbers and causes a huge financial burden on them.

NOMPU SIZIBA: The report basically says that these temporary workers have no safety net whatsoever, as you’ve already said – unlike those in the more formal economy. And the researchers are now advocating that not only platforms like yours could do more to assist, but governments as well. What sort of ideas do you have around broader solutions in this regard?

GEORGIE MIDGLEY: The biggest problem is that there is a potential exploitation of workers that are not covered by regulation. And the gig economy really does play such an important role. In South Africa there are not enough jobs, and it can be used to supplement income and provide a much-needed temporary employment option for people. And I do find a lot of our jobbers are temporary jobbers. They come on just because they need to earn enough money to look for a job interview, or study.

Then we have our jobbers who do this full time, and those are the ones we are particularly worried about – the ones that are the sole source of income in their households, and without that income they are going to starve. So I do think that these platforms have a role to play in ensuring that their workers are looked after, but governments also have to. There has to be some sort of regulation for to prevent this sort of exploitation.

Our jobs are slightly different. If the cash is not right, it just doesn’t get done. But if you look at other gig platforms, those that take their cut, if you want to work done, you don’t get to actually have a say. So I think there is a lot of grey when it comes to these platforms, and I think we can see a lot of exploitation, which is often the big negative perception around these platforms.

NOMPU SIZIBA: Yes. I think you’ve hinted at it, but what more do you think needs to be done to reduce the financial vulnerability of these workers? Do you think their rights in this regard may need to be legislated for?

GEORGIE MIDGLEY: I definitely think some sort regulation or legislation does need to come to the fore, because these platforms are going to become that much more relevant as a result of Covid-19. My personal opinion is that there is going to be the emergence of gig platforms. Just looking at the delivery economy, I think we are going to see the roads are going to be filled with bikes and deliveries to the home, which was up and coming is going to become a norm. We are going to see lots of people doing deliveries, and it’s all going to be based on gig work. So at some point I think the government  is going to have to legislate and regulate this particular economy, because I think it could be exploited.

NOMPU SIZIBA: Of course, you know, there’s been financial economic devastation in the short term. But once the economy starts to get back slowly, are you optimistic about the recovery rate in terms of jobs lost during the lockdown, particularly in the gig economy?

GEORGIE MIDGLEY: We talk about digitising different businesses, and looking at the way we do things in a different way. So, taking a traditional process and looking at in the way that, instead of giving one person a job, break it up into smaller jobs and help that many more people.

So I’m positive about this; we’ve actually been very busy during the lockdown, and we see very good things for our future. When the lockdown goes down to lower levels of two and three, then we can open up our location restaurants again. And I think that’s actually the case for a number of these gig persons. So, from our perspective I think it’s a very good place to be. Like they say, Covid-19 has created a digital transformation in a lot of businesses – not CEOs, CTOs and CFOs.

NOMPU SIZIBA: Yes. Nobody saw it coming. That was Georgie Midgley, the CEO of Money4Jam.

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Economy

How Foodora couriers took on the gig economy

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EPISODE 1: David vs. Goliath

A group of scrappy food couriers has just won a major legal battle against a multinational app company. It’s part of an ambitious effort to challenge the gig economy and become one of the first groups of app workers on the continent to join a union. In this episode, we go back to the start of the campaign and meet the characters behind it.

Listen here or subscribe at Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to your favourite podcasts.

Hustled was jointly produced by the Toronto Star and Antica Productions. It was written and produced by Sara Mojtehedzadeh and Antica producer Laura Regehr. Kathleen Goldhar is the story editor and executive producer at Antica. And Stuart Coxe is president of Antica Productions. Janet Hurley is senior editor at the Toronto Star. Hustled is made possible thanks to the ongoing support of the Atkinson Foundation.



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Oxygen chooss CPI for gig economy debit cards

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CPI Card Group Inc. (OTCQX: PMTS, TSX: PMTS) (“CPI” or the “Company”), a payment technology company and leading provider of credit, debit and prepaid solutions, today announced a collaboration with Oxygen, the first digital banking platform tailored to meet the unique needs of the freelance economy.

Oxygen selected CPI to develop its first personal and business debit cards – tapping the Company’s card manufacturing experience and advanced print design services to create a payment product that embodies Oxygen’s unique financial market positioning.

Oxygen provides flexible banking to the millions of U.S. professionals who thrive on multiple income streams, contract work and freelance gigs. The company’s solutions are available through a mobile app that enables a fast, frictionless user experience. Oxygen takes a holistic approach to meeting the financial services needs of independent professionals. In CPI, Oxygen found a card manufacturer that could create a payment solution from end to end. CPI and Oxygen collaborated to develop two packages with clean and crisply-designed vertical cards that arrive nested in interactive packaging. Back-of-card personalization completes the high-end look and feel.

“At Oxygen, we understand that the physical brand experience, – including everything from the card design to the packaging appearance – matters for our creative, tech-savvy clientele. With CPI’s cost-effective scale and design strengths, we were able to deliver a sleek card to customers in a unique, memorable fashion,” said Hussein Ahmed, founder and CEO at Oxygen. “We are pleased to have such a reliable secure card provider and are thrilled to offer customers an eye-catching debit card that echoes their drive, ambition and lifestyle.”

Through CPI’s advanced personalization capabilities and packaging options, financial institutions can develop differentiated card programs that deliver a premium cardholder experience. The Company provides end-to-end support and customizability that allow businesses to create tailored products that bridge the digital and physical worlds for their brands. Additionally, CPI’s innovative manufacturing approach empowers companies to introduce exciting card designs and technology features, which can offer a competitive edge in the pursuit of top-of-wallet status.

“CPI and Oxygen share in being deeply customer-centric in everything we do. We are excited to leverage our manufacturing strengths and high-quality print and design services to achieve debit cards that match the modern, sophisticated aesthetic of Oxygen’s brand and its clients,” said Guy DiMaggio, SVP and General Manager, Secure Card Solutions, CPI Card Group. “We look forward to supporting more fintech innovators and pioneers in creating payment cards that expand the physical aspect of their brands.”  

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How Covid-19 has affected the gig economy in South Africa

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/ MEDIA STATEMENT / This content is not written by Creamer Media, but is a supplied media statement.

A report by The Fairwork Project – a collaboration between various South African and foreign university research units – has found that the non-standard employment status of gig workers during Covid-19 has made them particularly vulnerable during an economic shutdown. However, some gig networking platforms have stepped up to ease the pain.

Fairwork, which draws on the expertise of staff from the universities of Oxford, Cape Town, Western Cape, Manchester, Institute of Information Technology Bangalore in India and the Technical University of Berlin, wrote a report titled Gig Workers, Platforms and Government During Covid-19, which was released in May 2020.

The report looked at gig economy platforms active in South Africa, government responses  regarding informal, freelance or gig economy workers, and actual worker experience surveys. While most platforms regarded workers as independent contracts rather than employees, to their detriment, the report found that gig technology company, M4Jam and SweepSouth actively worked to offset looses of income for contracted giggers.

The report compiled a scorecard which covered principles of fair pay, fair working conditions, fair contracts, fair management and fair representation. The scorecard specifically highlighted pay-related policies, given their importance to gig workers.

The scorecard found that three of the top-ranking platforms – M4Jam, SweepSouth and getTOD – had come up with innovative solutions to the problems their workers faced during Covid-19 and lockdown. M4Jam and SweepSouth were the only platforms to attempt to compensate for gig worker pay loss during lockdown.

“Our survey suggests the majority of gig workers have lost their jobs entirely, while those able to work during lockdown have, on average, lost four-fifths of their income. As a result, many reported that just getting food to eat was their top priority,” the researchers note.

“While [gig economy] platforms have long marketed themselves as facilitators of supplementary income streams, all of this exposes the complete dependency of most workers on their platforms as the basis for their livelihood,” they wrote.

The report stated that gig economy platforms, which operate by connecting jobbers with potential temporary work at corporate entities, should and could do more to help, by such measures as reducing commissions, deferring loans, offering healthcare assistance and sick pay, improving communication and engaging with workers and their representatives more effectively.

Georgie Midgley, CEO of M4Jam, said the report’s finding that inaction on behalf of gig platforms was the norm gave credence to common criticism of the gig economy. “Unfortunately most gig economy platforms live up to negative perceptions about jobber vulnerability. In a country like South Africa where the gig economy can play a vital role in supplementing income and providing much-needed temporary employment, the down side is potential exploitation of workers who do not have the safety net permanent employees have.”

Gig workers have tended to fall between the cracks of government financial relief measures, according to the report, principally because they fall outside the UIF net. “Gig workers have fallen between two stools: able to access neither the [government] support offered to formal employees, nor the support offered to those registered as small businesses. If gig workers are to avoid destitution, government must take further action,” the researchers said.

At the same time, the report said, the value of gig workers to the economy has been underlined by Covid-19 and lockdown. “Delivery services, for example, have been essential to society during lockdown. In the longer term, a legal resolution must be found to rescue gig workers from the employment-status limbo that the pandemic has brought into sharp relief.”

The report found, for example, that both Uber and Bolt ride-hailing services had closed down their local contact centres, “making it harder for drivers to interact with the platforms”. A constant criticism of gig economy platforms is that they simply cannot provide protection of workers’ rights in the same way that the formal economy’s employers do.

With lockdown preventing physical movement of jobbers completing micro-tasks for corporate employers, the report commended M4Jam’s approach of collaborating with one of its clients, Cell C, in rolling out a three-week training initiative that provided payment to workers for completing up to 48 short lessons undertaking via their mobile phones.

This provided further upskilling of contracted jobbers during the down time, and provided an average of R310 per week for those undergoing the training. M4Jam works with corporate clients such as Morecorp, i-People, Twizza, Sereti and more.

The research found that the trends in South Africa broadly reflected gig economy trends around the world, with roughly half of gig workers losing their “jobs” during lockdown. 

“We agree with the report’s findings that if gig economy platforms direct and exercise control over the work given to contracted jobbers, they should go to greater lengths to be responsible for assisting workers in dealing with the effects of Covid-19. This will not only maintain goodwill with contracted workers and ensure livelihoods are not lost – it will also show that the gig economy is a viable long-term alternative for job seekers who cannot get a foothold in the formal economy,” said Midgley.

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