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

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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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6 Gig Economy Jobs Perfect for Military Spouses

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The gig economy is an area where military spouses can thrive. For all of the reasons that the rest of the world shy away from Independent Contractor jobs, military spouses rush towards them. Flexible hours? Yes, please. Work from anywhere? Sounds great. No benefits? Don’t really need those.

For the past few years, the military spouse employment issue has been offset just a bit by the gig economy. Companies like Instant Teams and Wise Advise + Assist have made it their mission to connect military spouses with jobs in the gig economy. And it’s working.

While a gig economy job may not be the long term career solution you ultimately want, it’s great if you’re looking to make some cash while staying flexible.

Interested in a gig economy job? Here are six of them that military spouses should consider.

Millie Scout

If you’re a military spouse with some experience moving and a desire to help other spouses iron out the details of their next move, you may enjoy becoming a Millie Scout. With an average pay of $50 to $75 per job you can put your social media and tech skills to work performing tasks like reviewing houses and neighborhoods, checking in on rental properties and walking through properties for your fellow military spouse. This gig economy job can move with you and you’ll be connected with over 130 other Scouts to help you grow your professional network.

Virtual Assistant

Many military spouses have discovered the potential for jobs as a virtual assistant (VA). What does a virtual assistant do? Almost anything, but typically the time-consuming and sometimes tedious tasks that business owners and other people are too busy to do well. These tasks range from data entry to answering emails to transcription.

If you’re interested in becoming a virtual assistant, there’s a free online class designed by military spouse Esther Inman. Inman’s website also has tips to land VA jobs, and she adds resources via social media almost every day.

Online English Teacher

The option of teaching English online has made its way through all of the military spouse groups, but it is still a good option. From VIPKid to Cambly to Boxfish, there are many options. If you don’t have a degree or experience, Cambly is the one for you. They pay $0.17 a minute and you can work as much as you want. (Hourly that comes out to about $10.)

VIPKid, where you can teach one-on-one or group lessons, pays from $14 to $22 an hour, based on your availability and experience within the company. Of course, you’re teaching children in another time zone, so this may not work for everyone.

Boxfish is another option for teaching English to Chinese students. You can teach on-demand or scheduled classes with up to four students and each $10 per 25-minute session. Both VIPKid and Boxfish require a degree and some teaching experience.

Freelance Writer

There are varying degrees of freelance writers, some who freelance full time and some who write just a few pieces a month. Either way, if you’re interested in writing within the military spouse community, check out newly revamped NextGen MilSpouse.

NextGen focuses on the challenges of today’s milspouse entrepreneur. They are looking for the best of the best within the writing community as they are a trusted resource. They pay $50 per guest post, which is pretty standard within the milspouse community. Check out what they’re looking for specifically on their website.

Delivery Driver

One new(ish) gig economy job is driving for Shipt or Instacart. Just like the other jobs, you can set your own hours, choose when and where you want to take orders. Veteran spouse Shauna Hill says it’s a great way for her to get out of the house when her husband is home and still make some money. Hill drives for Shipt.

“The pay is pretty decent too, the more work you put in the better you get paid. You will start to gain “regular” customers based on how they rate you as a shopper. The better your rating the more orders you are offered. It’s hard to put an average rate on it, but I typically get about $15-20 an order and it takes about an hour to complete most shops and deliveries.”

PCS Mentor

If you are looking for a way to help military spouses during their PCS, another option is to become a PCS Mentor with MilHousing Network. By connecting with spouses throughout the PCS process, you’ll be able to help them with things besides buying or selling a home. This position is great for the military spouse who likes to connect with others, makes friends easily and has personal experience with finding a rental home or buying/selling a home.

Gig economy jobs come in all forms. Some of them may lead to longer, more permanent jobs and some may be good just for a season. Just like some houses and some duty stations.

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–Rebecca Alwine can be reached at rebecca.alwine@monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebecca_alwine.

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