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Jobs bloodbath, income loss for SA gig workers

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The majority of SA’s gig workers lost their jobs entirely during lockdown, while those able to work have on average lost four-fifths of their income.

This is one of the key findings of a report titled: “Gig Workers, Platforms and Government During COVID-19”, compiled by The Fairwork Project, a collaboration between the universities of Oxford (England), Cape Town, Western Cape, Manchester (England), Institute of Information Technology Bangalore in India and the Technical University of Berlin.

The report provides an analysis of the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19)-related lockdown on the estimated 35 000 gig workers in SA – those performing work for digital platforms like Uber, Bolt, Uber Eats, SweepSouth, M4Jam and food delivery apps such as Mr D Food – and reviewshow they are being supported by their employers and government.

The report found the non-standard employment status of gig workers has made them particularly vulnerable during the current economic shutdown, resulting in hundreds of job losses and with many gig workers reporting that just getting food to eat is their top priority.

“While a small number of platforms have stepped up during lockdown − for example, SweepSouth and M4Jam have tried to offset income losses for their workers − the majority of platforms have taken no responsibility to compensate workers for by far their major problem: loss of earnings,” reveals the report.

“Yet our survey suggests a 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.”

Today is day 61 of SA’s national lockdown implemented to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in companies taking a huge financial blow, with markets suffering losses unseen since the 2008 financial crisis.

Digital economy firms Uber, Airbnb, WeWork and Lyft earlier this month announced they will retrench thousands of employees, as a result of the economic downturn.

The report highlights that given the control they exercise over the welfare and conditions of their workers, SA’s platforms could and must do more to help. It outlines a series of measures they could be undertaking, including reduced commissions, loan deferrals, physical protection, healthcare assistance, sick pay, improved communication, and engagement with workers and their representatives.

According to The Fairwork Project, the pandemic has highlighted the importance of SA’s gig workers: delivery services, for example, have been essential to society during lockdown, remodelling their original business models to cater to the delivery of essential goods.

However, the relative lack of response from gig economy firms is also evident. It is highlighted in a graph based on 169 responses from gig workers which shows there is evidence for action on only 27 – just under 16% of the total responses.

[PICTURE] Graph

In particular, the report points out little is being done in relation to workers who become sick and there is little evidence of platforms improving management and supportive processes.

“There was no evidence of platforms addressing workers’ concerns about their lack of contractual status as employees. Finally, there was no evidence of platforms receiving, engaging with or taking action on COVID-19-related demands from workers or their representatives; despite there being groups and mechanisms by which this could occur,” notes the report.

Falling between the cracks

The breadth and depth of response by South Africa’s government in tackling the spread of COVID-19 has been recognised worldwide. However, as independent contractors, gig workers have been unable to access the support offered to formal employees, nor the support offered to those registered as small businesses, notes the report.

“If gig workers are to avoid destitution, government must take further action. Here, again, we outline a series of measures – pushing for gig workers’ de facto employee status to be recognised formally, but also ensuring the safety net of assistance covers gig workers.”

Last month, Uber and Bolt drivers and operators created a petition on Change.org, lobbying government to allow them to be included in the COVID-19 Relief Fund. They told ITWeb they feared their vehicles would be repossessed as their business had taken a huge blow during the lockdown.

In the longer term, The Fairwork Project suggests a legal resolution must be found to rescue gig workers from the employment-status limbo the pandemic has brought into sharp relief.

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Workers pay price as gig economy avoids regulations, inquiry finds

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Despite being commissioned by the Victorian government, Ms James found the federal government was best placed to drive change, given its responsibility for the national system of workplace laws.

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She recommended the development of a code of conduct to better protect on-demand workers, the removal of barriers to collective bargaining, and a one-stop-shop support agency to help workers when disputes arise.

If the federal government would not lead, Victoria should work with other states to drive legislative changes to offer greater fairness for platform workers, she said.

While he would not comment specifically on the recommendations, state Industrial Relations Minister Tim Pallas said there was a clear need for laws to be tightened to support gig workers.

“The gig economy is relied upon by millions of consumers and workers across the country, but there are holes when it comes to industrial relations that put workers’ rights to fair pay and conditions at risk,” he said.

Previously, Mr Pallas had indicated the state could act alone to bolster protections for gig economy workers.

On-demand workers are more likely to be young, urban and male. People who speak a language other than English at home are 1.5 times more likely to be platform workers.

An estimated 40 per cent of on-demand workers surveyed as part of the inquiry were not even aware of their rates of pay.

“Platforms have been deliberate in framing their arrangements with workers,” Ms James found.

“This enables platforms to avoid the operation of close and detailed labour regulation while other businesses are carrying the costs of complying with those requirements.”

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Those pressures are becoming more acute as the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic tear through every aspect of society, Ms James told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.

“What we have is a large number of people in need of income, looking for work in a labour market which has now become even more competitive,” she said.

“So the gig economy has provided invaluable access to work for people, but also under terms and conditions that are not regulated. And so what we have is vulnerable people with very little leverage in the labour market really, with little or no capacity to have a say in what the arrangements are in place in order to access this work.”

Zaheer Qazi spent three years working for Uber and Deliveroo while he completed his degree in Melbourne. During that time he was also the national welfare officer for the Council of International Students Australia.

Mr Qazi said he had been told horror stories about international students working for food delivery sites being attacked but having little recourse to workplace support or compensation.

“People are feeling more fearful with COVID,” he said. “They can’t afford to lose work and these companies know it.”

Zaheer Qazi says "fearful" gig workers "can't afford to lose work and these companies know it".

Zaheer Qazi says “fearful” gig workers “can’t afford to lose work and these companies know it”.Credit:Joe Armao

Freelancer.com chief executive Matt Barrie said while other platforms limited the amount of pay workers received, his company “liberates workers”.

“The gig economy is not one homogenous industry with a uniform business model,” he said.

“Any legislation must be cognisant of that and should be at the federal level, not the state level.”

Airtasker chief executive Tim Fung said the gig economy comprised a number of different platform types. “The needs of workers on each of these different platforms should be prioritised when considering how best to apply a regulatory framework.”

A Deliveroo spokeswoman declined to comment. The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald also approached Uber for comment but did not receive a response before deadline.

A spokesman for Attorney-General Christian Porter said given Mr Porter had not seen the report, he could not comment on its findings or recommendations.

In January, Mr Porter said: “The evolution of the gig economy also presents challenges which the government is committed to addressing.”

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GIG Car Share Chooses the Ridecell Platform for its Expansion into Seattle | News

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SAN FRANCISCO, July 8, 2020 /PRNewswire/ — Ridecell Inc., the leading platform provider for shared mobility operators, today announced that GIG Car Share, powered by AAA Northern California, will use the Ridecell High-yield Mobility Platform for its expansion to Seattle. Gig already uses Ridecell for its other operating cities, including Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area. The Ridecell platform enables Gig to operate its fleet efficiently while giving members a frictionless experience, including quick reservation on the Gig app plus keyless entry and Gig free parking locator within the app. Ridecell also keeps track of cars for easy service, cleaning and return, minimizing downtime and maximizing profitability.

Gig Seattle will begin with 250 brand new Toyota Prius XLE hybrid cars that seat five comfortably and provide outstanding fuel efficiency. The Ridecell platform provides Gig with end-to-end automation, instant driver verification, payment processing, on-demand scheduling, and custom analytics. In addition, the platform tracks vehicle locations to ensure safety and speedy service when needed.

“Gig has grown to be the largest* free-floating car sharing service in the country, despite the tough times most transportation services are facing,” said Aarjav Trivedi, CEO of Ridecell. “Gig’s great customer service orientation combined with our platform, has helped the company continue to succeed where other companies have faltered. We’re proud to continue our partnership with them as they enter the Seattle market.”

Ridecell offers the world’s only end-to-end platform for all types of mobility, including car sharing, ridehailing, and short-term vehicle subscriptions. The platform is designed to create high-yield mobility businesses for greater profitability. For more information, visit www.ridecell.com

About Ridecell

Ridecell helps companies build and operate profitable mobility businesses. With the company’s High-yield Mobility™ SaaS toolkit of intelligent software, business services, and ecosystem partners, Ridecell customers maximize three key profit drivers: customer experience, fleet utilization, and operational efficiency.

Founded in 2009, today, Ridecell powers some of the most successful mobility services in cities across Europe and North America. These services include ZITY from Ferrovial and Groupe Renault, Gig Car Share from AAA Northern California, and Blu Smart EV ride sharing service.

Ridecell is headquartered in San Francisco, California, with more than 170 employees in offices across the globe.

About GIG Car Share
GIG Car Share, a service from AAA Northern California, is the largest free-floating car share in the nation.* In three years, Gig has grown to more than 65,000 members and operates more than 1,000 cars across Northern California (Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco, Sacramento) and Seattle, Washington. The service launched in 2017 as the first venture from A3Ventures, AAA’s innovation lab based in Berkeley, Calif. Learn more at gigcarshare.com.

*Based on the size of its fleet as of 6/1/2020

Media Contact:
Jane Gideon
Tel: 415-682-9292
Email: press@ridecell.com

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Gig workers say pay decided by algorithm is unfair

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Same-day delivery has been a growing part of Target’s business during the pandemic. But Target employees don’t do most of the work picking up merchandise from stores and delivering it to customers’ homes. Instead, it’s mostly handled by gig workers hired through a platform called Shipt.

This week, some of them are protesting its new pay structure. Instead of being paid a set rate per order, an algorithm will weigh how busy a store is, how bad street traffic is and other factors to set the pay for an order.

Algorithms are foundational to how gig platforms like Uber or Instacart do business. Most users are familiar with surge pricing, where prices vary depending on demand. But that’s just part of a complex web of algorithms that affect everything from which jobs a gig worker is offered to how much they get paid for them.

“I really compare it to like the wizard behind the curtain in ‘Wizard of Oz,’” said Carlos Ramos, a ride-hailing driver in San Diego for the past three years. “Stuff is happening back there, and you have no idea what’s going on.”

Ramos has noticed some patterns: When he first logs on, he seems to be offered a lot of shorter, less lucrative rides until he decides to call it a day and head home.

“And then I’ll get a request for a hundred-mile trip in the other direction,” he said. “This has happened time and time again.”

He thinks it’s because of Lyft’s algorithm, but he can’t be sure because companies keep their software secret.

“We have no idea,” said Veena Dubal, a professor at the University of California’s Hastings College of the Law. “Everything that we know about the algorithms is based on what workers tell us they experience.”

Dubal has surveyed hundreds of gig workers to tease out how the algorithms work, and she’s concluded they’re designed to keep workers logged on for as little pay as possible.

“They therefore cannot predict their income on any given day or any given shift,” she said.

These systems cause financial uncertainty that puts workers at a disadvantage, said Kate Crawford, the co-founder of the AI Now Institute at New York University.

“These algorithmic systems are essentially increasing the power asymmetry between workers and employers to quite an extreme degree,” she said.

While each platform has unique algorithms, they all have a common objective, she said: to maximize profits, often at the expense of workers.

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