Earlier in September, Andela — a popular startup in the African talent-sharing marketplace — reportedly changed from its most recent model of hiring senior software developers.
If you recall, the startup began as a training institute for junior software engineers in 2014, a model which has since proven unsustainable, before it morphed to what it is now.
According to this report, it stopped operating a salaried model and ineluctably changed to a contract-based employment model. Consequently, developers will be paid per job — a gig economy-esque model.
Before now, the company has expected its pool of engineers to either decide to be a full-time or contract staff. But at this point, every employee will only be paid based on the job they do instead of the monthly salary.
While there is not enough information to show how well this is working for the startup, we cannot ignore how tech companies like this are constantly pushing the gig economy narrative in Africa. What easily comes to mind are the ride-hailing platforms that have increased in many African major markets.
Technology has been instrumental in reshaping the concept of work, especially in creating a means for more flexible working conditions. With the introduction of tools supporting virtual interaction, there is certainly a shift in the traditional meaning of what it means to work informally.
Understanding the gig economy
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), gig jobs are classified under temporary employment with pre-determined termination dates. And they could be fixed-term, task-based contracts, seasonal, or casual jobs.
Globally, regulations came into play in the last three decades as the population of the workforce doing gig jobs increased.
As a result, there is now a level of legal protection for those doing such jobs that didn’t exist 30 years ago.
That these jobs existed before the disruption caused by technology suggests it is possible to create safer conditions for workers today. But not all economies can guarantee this.
A PwC report considers a ‘gig’ as a critical part of a system that will characterise the future of work. Asides this, because of the disruption caused by the pandemic, companies will only need people whose skills are crucial to their operations.
However, this does not suggest that a company will be able to permanently employ everyone it considers crucial even if they are willing to stay. Besides, the paucity of talent is still a challenge.
Beyond the talent challenge, economies with several regulatory inadequacies have more to be worried about while building a gig economy.
What is at stake?
It is important to consider an emerging economy with a somewhat prospering gig economy.
India’s gig economy is a major contributor to its GDP. It is the fifth-largest country for flexi staffing — after the US, China, Brazil, and Japan — because the rise in the number of startups in the country has led to an increase in contractual jobs on digital platforms. Ride-hailing companies in the country, for instance, are said to have an estimated workforce of four million.
Unfortunately, the pandemic exposed some of the sector’s loopholes which will continue to mitigate against the growth of the gig economy if necessary frameworks are not put in place.
The concept of job security is based on a steady income, a sense of permanence, and retirement benefits. The hardest hit when a company faces major challenges — acquisition, bankruptcy, or financial scandals — are part-time workers; their full-time counterparts, on the other hand, have better job security.
Understandably, all sectors of the economy were affected by the pandemic with job loss a common theme. But it appears casual, seasonal, or task-based contract employees were mostly affected because, barring those offering exceptional value, they were not the priority when companies drew up their adaptation plans.
For instance, the number of drivers/riders in the ride-hailing workforce who lost their jobs during different phases of lockdown was alarming. Worse still, those who went ahead to provide services as the lockdown was eased did so at their peril as no safety or health provisions were made.
Typically, part-time workers have lower levels of protection when it comes to termination of their employment. This is having in mind that not all temporary jobs have clearly defined termination date.
Usually, no reasons are given by the employer to justify the end of the employment relationship other than the end date of the contract being reached and the employer’s unwillingness to renew.
Also, because of the ease with which workers in the gig economy can be replaced, most companies do not bother giving them benefits once they are let go.
Conversely, even though a part-time worker could be required to fit into a company’s culture during the period of service, the company may not be committed to such in the same proportion.
There are very few countries with defined regulatory provisions protecting the interests of temporary workers. As a result, these casual jobs are taken up without any contractual agreements.
And the absence of regulations makes it easy for employers to treat employees unfairly, without the latter having litigation options to redress the wrongs done to them.
One such occurrence — recently discussed in a previous article — would have been forestalled if there was a written contract in place.
Another example is the recent neglect of drivers by ride-hailing companies that left infected drivers to care for themselves even though their infections resulted from the companies’ oversight.
In a lawsuit, the companies said that the drivers could not be treated as employees because they were only gig workers.
Weighing the pros and cons of the gig economy
Despite its attendant challenges, a pronounced gig economy plays a crucial role in people’s entry into the labour market; it also helps the young population gain relevant work experience.
Whether you are an African freelance writer remotely running a publication for a Swedish company, an Uber driver, a software engineer, or a web designer building a website for a corporate agency, you’re a part of the gig economy.
Additionally, taking up gigs is an opportunity for an individual to upskill without being held back by a ‘stable job’.
In essence, the gig economy provides a kind of testing ground which helps young people try out different roles, compare work ethics across sectors, develop other skills, as well as build a network of professionals.
Meanwhile, an employer can objectively judge whether an employee is a best fit for the company after a series of short-term services before deciding to offer permanent employment.
This type of flexible work environment can only benefit the economy. However, if proper attention is not given to how involved parties run the system, people will always get the short end of the stick.
For example, the Indian government plans to use this period to establish a secured framework which will specifically favour the gig economy.
Ultimately, if African countries will benefit from the gig economy, they need to adopt or invent an inclusive regulatory model for every form of employment. Eventually, it would be less complicated belonging to either side of the labour spectrum. Perhaps, it will also serve as a panacea to the unemployment challenges faced in the continent.
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NEW REPORT: Nigerian startups raised $28.35m in Q2 2020; only about 4.5% of that came from local investors. Find out more in the full report.
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Part Time UFO Is The Gig Economy Almost Done Right – But Why Tho?
Part Time UFO, an adorable physics game developed by HAL Egg and published by HAL Laboratory, was surprise-ported onto Nintendo Switch after beginning its life as a mobile game in 2018. The game features a crash-landed UFO who puts their giant claw to use helping the folks around town with their lifting and moving problems, all for some nice, equitable pay.
I can’t imagine how this game played as a mobile title as the joystick controls are perfectly reminiscent of a claw game at the boardwalk or arcade. Your UFO friend drops its claw down, wide-open and ready to grab something. When you latch on, whether to a box of fruit, a piece of a construction project, or a very patient cheerleader, your claw starts swinging around and your grip becomes precarious. The controls are very sensitive, but always fair as you work to carefully hold onto and balance each object. You can also bump objects, try to flip them, and use the momentum of your swinging claw to get extra advanced in your manipulation.
The objectives in each level range from stacking items up high, building objects with slightly lopsided elements, collecting things as fast as possible, or manipulating heavy objects in a proper series to make the load bearable. They’re all cutely themed too, where in one level you may be helping a farmer, the next, a museum curator, and the next, a fisherman.
Each level has three bonus objectives, one usually tied to completion within a certain amount of time and the other two based on visual puzzles. When you pause the game, images of what the game requires of you will show, but they are not always completely clear. If you can decipher what they mean though, you earn medals. These medals are required to unlock the next three levels, as well as may contribute to in-game achievements. Achieving all three in a given level unlocks a second, more difficult version of the level.
They also earn you more cash. For each item you help move throughout the game, as well as each bonus objective you complete, you earn money. Money can be redeemed at a store operated by a somewhat racist caricature of a genie-like alien. You buy absolutely adorable outfits for your UFO at the store, each of which comes with a different little emote-action your UFO does in-level if you press L.
That’s pretty much the whole game. The levels are fun and increasingly difficult as you go on. The incentives between new costumes and in-game achievements are worth pushing yourself to achieve all of the medals. There is also a “how high can you stack these random objects” mode that is extra challenging, but offers only a local leaderboard and more in-game achievements as a reward.
The music is excellent and catchy. It’s a simple theme that repeats over and over, but it has slight thematic variations in each level. Part Time UFO also has a local multiplayer mode on the Nintendo Switch. It is essentially the exact same as the game in single-player, just with a friend. The difficulty isn’t scaled or anything, you just have two UFOs working together now.
The thing about Part Time UFO that I find most interesting though personally, as a card-carrying, multiple 1099 wielding member of the gig economy, is just how starkly this game represents its various realities. When you first being the game, you cold open into the first level without even seeing a menu. Your UFO buddy is just by chance on the scene of a farmer in need of help. Wanting to do the right thing and enjoying using your claw to move things around, you help out. But then, the farmer offers to pay you. He literally makes a comment about how bizarre it is you’ve never been justly compensated for your labor before. He then gives you a lecture about the value of work and provides you with a magazine full of job listings to go off and make more money in the freelance world.
So, on one hand, I deeply appreciate that this farmer is prioritizing justice and equity in the labor he benefits from. As a basic moral value, his immediate propensity to pay you for your work, unprompted, is the way everybody should treat labor. But on the other hand, his schpiel about the value of hard work and the need for every young person to go out and earn their keep is concerning. Neither humans nor UFOs should be judged based on how much one man thinks they contribute to the workforce.
He’s also contributing to the hustle-fication of the UFO’s pastime. As so many folks are learning these days, it’s not always healthy to turn your passions into work. It can take the joy and relaxation out of it. Yet, the cute little living space that your UFO buddy hangs out in on the main menu indicates that clearly, the gig work they perform is for additional discretionary income, not basic survival. You use the money you earn to buy cute clothes for fun, not to pay your rent. So this quandary is difficult to assess.
In a time where so many folks are turning to gig economy work out of sheer necessity because it is the only kind of work that is available, and when companies like Uber and Lyft are fighting so hard to make gig labor less protected and less valued, I’m a bit uncomfortable with a game that is so explicitly romanticizing gig labor. While there are indeed romantic elements, and for many, it is a viable source of income or livelihood, it is not always a just or healthy system. At least Part Time UFO emphasizes just compensation for labor performed. I just hope our buddy here gets good health insurance, sets their own hours, and isn’t slammed on their tax returns.
Psuedo-serious discussion of labor justice aside, Part Time UFO is an adorable and totally fun little game worth the couple of bucks. The numerous challenging levels, in-game incentives, super-cute aesthetic, and very captivating gameplay make this game well worth the leap from mobile to console.
Part Time UFO is available now on Nintendo Switch, iOS, and Android.
Part Time UFO
Part Time UFO is an adorable and totally fun little game worth the couple of bucks. The numerous challenging levels, in-game incentives, super-cute aesthetic, and very captivating gameplay make this game well worth the leap from mobile to console.
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