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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

‘Uber for evictions:’ Startup raising eyebrows for listing tenant removal gig jobs | WETM

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(NEXSTAR) – The newest option for flexible gig work doesn’t involve driving your neighbors around or delivering food to their homes, it requires removing them and their stuff for failing to pay the rent.

The website for the startup Civvl advertises process server and eviction crew work on a flexible schedule across all 50 states.

The company website describes the work as the “fastest growing money making gig due to COVID-19.”

According to Civvl’s site, the work involves posting eviction notices, serving papers and assisting with foreclosure cleanouts on behalf of banks, landlords and property managers.

While it may seem like a cruel parody of the gig economy in the age of COVID-19, Vice reporter Ashwin Rodrigues dug into the business and says it appears to legitimate based on its national advertising effort and links to slightly more established gig sites. Rodrigues was unsuccessful in attempts to get a response from the company founders.

“Seizing on a pandemic-driven nosedive in employment and huge uptick in number-of-people-who-can’t-pay-their-rent, Civvl aims to make it easy for landlords to hire process servers and eviction agents as gig workers,” wrote Rodrigues, describing the company as, “Uber, but for evicting people.”

An estimated 22 million people lost their jobs in the early days of the pandemic, and while some of those people have been rehired, many have been lost for good. With government agencies and facing unexpected deficits and stimulus efforts gridlocked, it’s likely that the economic fallout will be felt for months to come.

Renters fearing eviction should look at protections instituted at both the state and federal level.

On September 1st, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a moratorium on evictions that covered roughly 40 million Americans at risk of losing their residences. In order to be covered, the renters are required to sign a document declaring that they don’t make more than $99,000 annually or $198,000 if filing jointly, and that they would likely become homeless if not receiving protections.

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Startup Civvl Blends Gig Economy With Evictions

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The world of startups can sometimes teeter dangerously close to self-parody. For years now, “Uber, but for ____” has worked as shorthand for hundreds, if not thousands, of upstart tech companies. Over the summer, an app allowing swimming pool owners to rent out their pools by the hour got plenty of coverage; a year earlier, that’s the kind of thing that might have popped up in a satirical novel or television show.

Where do we go from here? A new article at Vice offers one suggestion: a startup called Civvl. As author Ashwin Rodrigues describes it, Civvl is “essentially, Uber, but for evicting people.” As apps go, that sounds like something that would’ve been cut from Sorry to Bother You for being a little too on-the-nose.

The Vice article chronicles Civvl’s growth: it’s been posting ads on Craigslist for work all over the country, citing the pandemic and the damage it’s done to the nation’s economy as an explanation for why its services are in demand. “There is plenty of work due to the dismal economy,” one ad states. Among the gigs offered: process servers and furniture movers.

The article goes into even more detail about Civvl’s origins, including the fact that it’s part of a larger gig economy-based company called OnQall — and that people who have downloaded the app have posted angry reviews about being charged a $35 fee to use it. A startup charging people money to find work evicting other people sounds like the stuff of satire; instead, it’s just another sign of 2020 being 2020.

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Code on Social Security, 2020, lays down gig and platform worker benefits

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In a first, the central government has recognised the gig economy gig workers, platform workers, and aggregators under a wide-ranging proposed labour law that it introduced in Lok Sabha on Saturday. The Code on Social Security, 2020, empowers the central government to formulate social security schemes for gig workers and platform workers around life and disability cover, accident insurance, health and maternity benefits, old age protection, creche, and other benefits the government may determine as necessary.

So far, gig workers have not fallen under any legislation and are not entitled to social security schemes. Companies that rely on gig workers, such as Zomato, Swiggy, Ola, and others, consider such workers as independent contractors, and not employees, and hence leave them out of any social security benefits.

The new code said that social security schemes can be can be fully or partially funded by the government, by aggregators, in part by the state government, or funded by CSR, or “any other source”. Aggregators will have to contribute between 1-2% of their annual turnover, excluding taxes or cess payable to the central government, as contribution to social security funds for gig and platform workers. The aggregator’s contribution will not exceed 5% of the amount payable to gig workers and platform workers.

The bill was introduced in Lok Sabha amidst opposition from Congress MPs Manish Tewari and Shashi Tharoor.

How the code defines gig workers, platform workers, and aggregators

A gig worker is a person who works or participates in a work arrangement and earns from such activity “outside of traditional employer-employee relationship”. Separately, the bill also recognises “platform work”, also a work arrangement outside traditional employer-employee relationship “organisations or individuals use an online platform to access other organisations or individuals to solve specific problems or to provide specific services or any such other activities which may be notified by the Central Government, in exchange for payment”. A “platform worker” is a person engaged in or undertaking platform work.

An aggregator is a digital intermediary or market place for a buyer/user of a service to connect with the seller/service provider. The bill classifies aggregators into the following kinds:

  1. Ride-sharing services
  2. Food and grocery delivery services
  3. Logistic services
  4. e-Market place (both market place and inventory model) for wholesale/retail sale of goods and/or services (B2B/B2C)
  5. Professional services provider
  6. Healthcare
  7. Travel and hospitality
  8. Content and media services
  9. Any other goods and service provider platform

Central govt will lay down scheme specifics

The government will also provide for how the scheme would be administered, what the role of aggregators would be, and the agencies for implementing the scheme, and so on. The government will notify when aggregators have to start contributing.

  • Power to exempt aggregators: The central government can exempt an aggregator or a class of aggregators from contributing funds to social security subject to certain conditions. An aggregator having more than one business shall be treated as a separate business entity or aggregator. [Section 114].

Additionally, the central government will provide for the interest rate payable by aggregators in case of delayed payments or failure to contribute to the social security fund. [Section 114]

Toll free centre: The “appropriate Government” “may” set up a toll free call centre or helpline to give information about social security schemes for unorganised workers, gig workers, and platform workers. The centre will also help with processing registrations for gig workers and platform workers, and help enroll them in the social security schemes. [Section 112]

Government also to establish social security fund

Apart from letting the government form schemes [under Section 114], the bill also provides that the central government establish a social security fund for unorganised workers, gig workers, and platform workers [under Section 141]. For gig and platform workers, the funding can come fully or partially funded from the central the government, from aggregators, in part from state government, or from CSR, or “any other source” (as was mentioned above). It can also be made up of the composition of the offences under the bill.

Social security means “the measures of protection afforded to employees, unorganised workers, gig workers and platform workers to ensure access to health care and to provide income security, particularly in cases of old age, unemployment, sickness,invalidity, work injury, maternity or loss of a breadwinner by means of rights conferred on them and schemes framed, under this Code”.

Scheme under ESIC: The central government can also frame a scheme for gig workers and platform workers, and their family members for benefits admissible under the Employees State Insurance Corporation (ESIC). The government will have to specify the contribution, user charges, scale of benefits, and eligibility criteria in the scheme.

National Social Security Board to be formed, will administer, monitor schemes

A National Social Security Board will be formed by the central government, that will give recommendations on formulating schemes for gig workers and platform workers (and for unorganised workers). It will also monitor the schemes, and advise the centre on issues that arise out of the code’s administration. It will review the state-level record keeping and review the expenditure of the fund and account. The labour minister and labour secretary will serve as chairperson and vice-chairperson.

  • Out of the 40 nominated members (by the centre), 19 will be government officers, including from central government ministries and departments, and from state governments. There will be 21 members 7 representatives each from unorganised sector employers, unorganised sector workers, and eminent persons from civil society [Section 6].

This will also be the board for welfare of gig workers and platform workers. Provided while “such Board serves the purposes of welfare of, or matters relating to, gig workers and platform workers”, some of the members will be replaced by [under Section 114] :

  • 5 representatives each of aggregators, and gig workers and platform workers, nominated by the central government
  • Experts nominated by the central government
  • Five representatives of state governments in rotation
  • Joint secretary in the Labour ministry to serve as member secretary

It’s unclear whether there will be two separate National Social Security Boards, one for unorganised workers [Section 6], and another for gig workers and platform workers [Section 114]. It is more also possible that the same board will have different members, when addressing gig and platform workers.

Mandatory registration with Aadhaar

To avail benefits, every gig worker and platform worker has to register for a unique number, “in such form along with  such documents including Aadhaar number as may be prescribed by the Central Government”. This comes with the pre-condition that gig and platforms workers seeking registration are above 16 years of age and has submitted a self-declaration “containing such information as may be prescribed by the Central Government” [Section 113].

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