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MasterCard Study Illustrates Digital Divide In EA Gig Economy

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The digital gig economy favours the young.

Mastercard has released a white paper revealing how gig work across East Africa is helping to drive economic growth by facilitating economic opportunities, improving livelihoods, and acting as a buffer against unemployment.

However, for the gig economy – which is based on short-term, temporary and flexible independent contractors – to reach its potential and unlock prosperity for millions of people, the digital divide must be bridged through connected devices that power the digital economy, and value adds like access to capital and access to market.

Mastercard’s white paper titled The Gig Economy in East Africa: A Gateway to the Financial Mainstream, explores how digital inclusion is a prime enabler of the gig economy. Connected devices, which are already proven to be vehicles of inclusion and development in Africa, can help gig workers overcome some of the biggest challenges they face, ultimately driving financial inclusion and leading to improved economic possibilities.

Know thy gig worker and know them well

The paper, based on research from in-depth face-to-face interviews with gig workers in Kenya, shows that the gig economy is nascent, buoyant, and continues to grow, with almost two-thirds (60 per cent) of gig workers joining the gig economy between 2017 and 2019.

It describes the average gig worker as male, about 30 with a high school degree, speaking both English and Swahili, owns a smartphone that connects him to his gigs, with over two years experience doing gig work. He has learnt, through gig work, “to keep his
expenses flexible because he may earn anywhere between Kshs 10,001 and Kshs 30,000 ($100 – $300) each month.”

His wife, the white paper says, is a “nanny-cum-household help” who gets called in for chores as well. Her gig allows her to enjoy a flexible work schedule such that she can take care of their young, budding family. “If only, the couple says, there was some stability and continuity of income, they would be able to plan their lives around their work – acquire a better mobile device with a more reliable internet connection, train as a driver, perhaps obtain a car on a loan to join a gig platform.”

This, it notes, is the profile of a typical gig economy worker in Kenya in 2020. Branded jua kali, the informal sector is described as a job-creation engine. The 2019 Economic Survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics discloses that it was responsible for 762,100 of the 840,600 new jobs created in 2018.

It describes the average gig worker as male, about 30 with a high school degree, speaking both English and Swahili, owns a smartphone that connects him to his gigs, with over two years experience doing gig work.

How much is the gig worth?

The gig economy powered by digital tools like mobile, is the latest addition to this sector. The report reveals that the global gig economy stands at $193 billion and growing at a projected annual rate of 17.4 per cent. By the end of 2023, it will be worth $455 billion. This digital gig economy hosts 40.7 million freelancers on digital platforms across the globe, generating $193 billion in gross volume and $127 billion in disbursements to freelancers.

Research estimates from 2019 peg the total size of the Kenyan gig economy at $19.7 billion employing 5.13 million workers in six key sectors: agriculture, manufacturing, trade and hospitality, construction, transport and communications, and community, social and personal services.

However, like much of the informal sector, uncertainty is a fact of life, with the biggest challenges being around continuity of income. More than half (55 per cent) said that not knowing when the next gig contributes to instability. And close to 60 per cent of respondents said that fluctuation in income from week to week is a cause for frustration.

Currently, the online gig economy (the portion of gig work that is attained through digital platforms), is a tiny portion of the overall gig economy. Research-based estimates in 2019 put the total size of the online gig economy in Kenya at $109 million, employing 36,573, while the offline gig economy comprises 5.1 million workers, and accounts for $19.6 billion. Despite this, online gig economy work is preferred.

More than half (55 per cent) said that not knowing when the next gig contributes to instability. And close to 60 per cent of respondents said that fluctuation in income from week to week is a cause for frustration.

Online gigs for the win

Mastercard’s report found that almost 60 per cent would prefer online gigs to offline. This is because online gig work enables end-to-end management of projects. A third (over 35 per cent) said that finding gig work was easier on a platform, and about 30 per cent said platforms made faster payments possible, helping connect to other workers.

“Gig work is present everywhere in East Africa, but now, with the growth of digital technologies and connected devices, there is a real opportunity to help gig workers quickly connect to consumers to meet their demands for services, and overcome significant pain points such as inconsistent work, financial planning challenges and late payments. If each key player in the gig economy ecosystem comes together – from the platform to the mobile industry and the payments provider – we can ensure that the end-to-end journey of the gig worker is both smooth and profitable, and realize the true potential of inclusive, sustainable growth across the continent,” said Jorn Lambert, Chief Digital Officer, Mastercard.

Some of the most common types of gig work in East Africa are in artisanal and general services, which includes welders, electricians, carpenters, and domestic workers. “Independence” is the powerful motivator behind this movement. Being self-employed with the freedom to work at an individual pace is part of why gig work is growing. It is an inclusive space where people of different social and economic backgrounds can fit in and earn a living.

Research estimates in 2019 peg the total size of the Kenyan gig economy
at $19.7 billion employing 5.13 million workers in six key sectors: agriculture, manufacturing, trade and hospitality, construction, transport and communications, and community, social and personal services. It is seen as an almost natural choice for Millennials and Gen Z when fresh out of high school.

“Research backs the fact that Millennials, and by extension Gen Z, work in a technology ecosystem that includes social networking, instant messaging, video-on-demand, blogs and wikis. The digital natives are used to instantly connecting, engaging, and collaborating with cohorts and managers seamlessly, leading to better productivity.”

With the digital economy as an enabler of greater prosperity and inclusion, gig platforms have proven to be a single touchpoint for many services and opportunities utilised by gig workers. But access to gig work opportunities is often not enough to keep a gig worker afloat.

Loans, instant payments, and benefits such as insurance, are the top three perks desired by gig workers in Kenya, and 45 per cent of respondents said they are willing to pay between $1 and $5 a month for such ben­efits and services.

Over 80 per cent of respondents in Mastercard’s research said instant payments when a job is finished is the most desired feature of a gig platform. And, in step with the prevalent mobile money system, about two-thirds (62 per cent) of respondents said they prefer to receive payment through mobile money such as M-PESA or Airtel Money because it is readily available, reliable, easy to manage, secure, and convenient.

in step with the prevalent mobile money system, about two-thirds (62 per cent) of respondents said they prefer to receive payment through mobile money such as M-PESA or Airtel Money because it is readily available.

Suffer ye the disadvantages of the gig economy

However, there are still barriers to internet access that need to be over­come to realize the massive opportunity that the East Africa region represents. One is the slower speed of internet data in Africa compared to other continents.

“Traditional platforms often do not adequately serve the needs of the gig worker, who is at risk from personal accident and injury, loss in revenue from any absence from work, incomplete delivery or payments, and economic volatility. However, connected devices are bridging divides between urban and rural, rich and poor, and connecting gig workers to peers, information, opportunities and services,” points out Ngozi Megwa, Senior VP, Digital Partnerships, Mastercard MEA.

“But what’s equally as critical is establishing a digital identity for gig workers across platforms,” he continues, adding that, “There are various gig platforms currently being utilised, but it is difficult for a single platform to provide the value and benefits that workers require, such as the easy collection of payments via digital channels, and access to credit, training and insurance, particularly as they tend to move from one platform to another. A collaborative approach is called for to not just create jobs, but also a gig-worker identity that provides benefits, ensuring decent working conditions and improved livelihoods,” concluded Ngozi.

 

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More relaxed province as COVID rules disappear will likely hurt gig worker income

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In the middle of the pandemic last summer, Samouel Garinis saw an opportunity to earn an income delivering meals to people stuck at home.

As a new full-time Skip the Dishes driver in Fredericton, Garinis made about $20 an hour during good weeks and as little as $5 an hour when times were tough.

Now, after witnessing a decrease in orders as the province sheds COVID-19 restrictions, he is wondering what will become the new norm.

“The glamour does fade away,” said the 21-year-old. “It’s not as fun as it was when I first started, but I still look upon it well.

“It’s a very free job — I can listen to music, podcasts, I can pick my shifts for whenever, really. As long as someone else hasn’t swiped away those shifts already.”

Garinis works for Skip the Dishes about 40 hours a week. The autonomy of being his own boss, choosing his shifts, and listening to his own music has helped level off the income insecurity. (Edwin Hunter)

Garinis said that every Thursday, Skip the Dishes shifts for the next week become available randomly throughout the afternoon, up for grabs for any driver to claim. This is the most stressful part of his week.

“You don’t know how good a day is going to be,” Garinis said. “It might be horrible one day, it might be great another. Obviously, with the pandemic slowing down it’s going to get less busy of course — but that’s the main bit of it. It’s just not a very stable job.”

Statistics Canada, which describes gig workers as self-employed freelancers, on-demand online workers and day labourers, found they represented about eight to 10 per cent of all Canadian workers in 2016, according to the agency’s most recent data.

Before the pandemic arrived in Canada in 2020, an estimated 10 per cent of Canadians worked in the gig economy, Statscan says. 

App couriers are seeing a slowdown with their side-hustle as the province moves into Phase 2. 1:47

Gig worker Megan Foster of Fredericton said the meal delivery platforms Skip the Dishes and DoorDash and grocery counterpart Instacart were not widely used in the city until last year, when the pandemic started keeping people at home. 

The meal delivery platforms are often grouped alongside ride-sharing apps Uber and Lyft for offering on-demand delivery and transportation services.

“I didn’t even know any of them, like none of them existed,” Foster said of the three food delivery platforms she now works for.

“And then the pandemic hit and people needed stuff brought to their houses, and restaurants needed to make money. And so it definitely accelerated [use]. And I’m hoping that it doesn’t stop after the pandemic.”

Unlikely to be stable, expert says

But looking ahead, experts say gig work in Fredericton may not be able to stabilize and grow at the rate expected in larger urban centres.

“They really have to follow the demand where and when it arises, and really then, I would call that more instability than flexibility,” said associate professor of sociology Paul Glavin at McMaster University in Ontario, who is studying the gig economy and its effect on participants’ mental health. 

For the 26-year-old Foster, taking up shifts for each platform helped supplement her full-time income as a personal support worker.

“By doing the side hustle with Skip the Dishes and DoorDash and Instacart, I was able to pay off a lot of my debt, so it was a big help,” said Foster, who hopes to keep doing gig work part time once she transitions back into her day job.

“Now that I’m taking a break from home care, it’s helping cover bills on its own.”

Gig worker sees continuing need

With New Brunswick now in Phase 2 of its so-called path to green, Foster hopes customers and workers will continue to use the apps. She said the services fill gaps, especially for people in rural areas or with mobility issues and in need of help with groceries.

“I find with Instacart, that one has been really helpful for the seniors. I know a lot of the regular seniors that I shop for, and they really enjoy having us bring [groceries] to them.”

Although gig work has become more common, New Brunswick does not have any information that tracks who participates in the gig economy.

Moving out of the pandemic, the biggest challenge for researchers and government is finding ways to track this fluid labour market, said Glavin.

“It’s very easy to identify a full-time worker with a single employer, but when people are loosely attached to gig work, that makes it challenging.”

Paul Glavin is part of a team of researchers working on the Canadian quality of work and economic life study. His most recent research found gig workers largely report more autonomy in their job, but they also tend to report greater stresses that contribute to poor mental health. (Paul Glavin)

Although Garinis believes app-based work will become more commonplace, he said he’s planning on a gradual transition back into traditional full-time work.

“It’s already been slower this summer than it was last summer, where I could average out, like, $20 when the pandemic really was starting. It’s not been good — I am prepared to get another job.”

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Growing gig frustration: Uber, Lyft drivers call for fed intervention in jobs dispute

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It’s been more than a year since San Francisco Uber driver Lucas Chamberlain was knocked unconscious by a would-be customer who attacked him during an argument over whether or not the patron was old enough to ride solo.

“I woke up with blood coming down under my eye,” Chamberlain told CNN Business. “I was like, ‘Why are there rocks in my mouth?’ It was my broken teeth.”

The March 15, 2020 attack temporarily put Chamberlain in the hospital, which only made his problems worse. He says he is one of many Uber drivers who do not receive health care benefits from the company even though they spend more than 40 hours a week working for Uber.

Situations like this are among the reasons some California Uber and Lyft drivers are calling on the National Labor Relations Board to classify them as employees once again.

Rideshare drivers from the organization We Drive Progress and delivery couriers with the Mobile Worker Alliance publicly stated their NLRB grievances during a Tuesday afternoon Zoom press conference. The groups say their total membership includes about 24,000 gig workers.

Heads up, Uber: NC startup plans to launch ridesharing service

Representatives from both groups said they want the NLRB to reconsider ruling on a gig worker complaint filed after the November passage of Proposition 22, a California ballot initiative that allowed gig companies like Uber to classify their drivers and couriers as independent contractors rather than employees.

Prop 22 created an exception to California’s AB-5, a law passed in 2019 that granted gig workers all the rights and privileges associated with full-time employee status, including paid time off, paid sick leave, mandatory health care benefits for individuals working 40+ hours a week and the right to collectively bargain.

Uber and the other gig companies fought hard against AB-5, launching a $185 million ad campaign that convinced a majority of California voters that most ride-share drivers and couriers preferred the flexibility of being independent contractors, citing multiple polls ans studies on the issue.

In May, a Benson Strategy Group survey showed 82% of Uber drivers are still happy with Prop 22. The same survey found 51% of drivers remained “very happy” with the ballot measure.

“What California has shown is that the issue of independent work doesn’t follow the ideological lines,” Uber said. “Some political leaders are out of touch with what drivers and voters actually support.”

Uber ordered to pay $1.1M after arbitrator rules drivers discriminated against blind woman

But the aggrieved drivers say Uber, Lyft and other gig companies haven’t kept the promises they made to voters when they campaigned for Prop 22.

“Those things that drivers rely on to ensure a good pay and a livable wage, they’re keeping that from us,” Lyft driver Jerome Gage told reporters Tuesday.

The drivers said the gig companies’ list of promises included providing a health care stipend to qualifying drivers and couriers who don’t already have medical coverage provided by the government or another employer.

Tulchin Research determined in April that roughly 86% of surveyed California gig workers are ineligible for the healthcare stipend.

Uber also added a fare multiplier feature to its app during the Prop 22 campaign after drivers complained about reduced fare prices cutting into their profits. Uber told drivers the fare multiplier would give them greater control as independent contractors by allowing them to set their own prices for trips “as a multiple of time and distance rates,” but the company abandoned the feature after customers pushed back earlier this year.

“Over the last few months, 80% of riders matched with a driver with a fare multiplier above 1x declined the higher fare and did not re-request a ride on Uber,” the company said in an April 8 blog post. “Additionally, drivers who set a high multiplier received fewer trip requests.”

Chamberlain said the broken promises cemented his view that being a gig employee is better than remaining independent.

“If I was an employee, I would have workers’ comp, insurance,” he said. “Because I don’t have that, I’m stuck with broken teeth. And I didn’t get paid for time off.”

The National Labor Relations Board said Tuesday that it isn’t aware of any California rideshare drivers or couriers filing a specific complaint against Uber, Lyft or any other major gig app company.

An NLRB spokesperson noted that under the Trump administration, the board previously determined the it doesn’t have jurisdiction over the gig workers because they are considered independent contractors and not employees, but that could change once a new complaint is filed under President Joe Biden’s NLRB.

Ken Jacobs, chair of the UC Berkeley Labor Center at Institute for Research on Labor Employment, says it’s “fairly likely” Biden’s NLRB will eventually weigh in on the gig workers’ battle with companies like Uber.

“It’s hard to read where they’d come down, but I would not be surprised if they reversed it,” he told CNN Business.

Celine McNicholas, director of government affairs and labor counsel at the Economic Policy Institute, says the Trump-era NLRB ruling effectively denied Uber drivers and other gig workers the collective bargaining rights granted by the National Labor Relations Act.

“We hope the NLRB will correct this error and ensure that these workers have the right to a union,” she said.



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Deliveroo Is Training Its Gig Workers to Spot ‘Modern Slavery’

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Deliveroo is launching LifeCycle, it’s First Aid initiative where riders are being offered the opportunity to learn first aid skills from the Red Cross on August 8, 2018 in London, England. Image: Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images for Deliveroo

Food delivery app Deliveroo will offer riders the option to receive training in how to spot crimes, the company announced last week.

The training will be offered in partnership with Neighborhood Watch, a UK-based crime prevention organization comprised of a number of small local chapters. According to a joint press release sent to Motherboard, participating riders will be trained to spot, among other things, drug dealing, street harassment, and human trafficking. 

The press release also claimed that more than 1,000 of the 50,000 Deliveroo riders in the UK have signed up for the free training, which has been certified by the London Metropolitan Police. 

“Deliveroo riders carried out a vital role in their local communities during the pandemic and are well-placed to spot any concerns in the neighborhoods in which they work and live,” the release reads. 

In a separate email, a spokesperson from Neighbourhood Watch told Motherboard that the training would consist of a series of animated videos offered over a period of six months. 

Are you a Deliveroo rider who has participated in Deliveroo and Neighborhood Watch’s crime spotting training? We’d love to hear from you. You can contact Gabriel Geiger securely on Signal at +31 6 36 01 08 68 or email gabriel@gabrielgeiger.me

A Deliveroo spokesperson confirmed to Motherboard that riders will not receive extra compensation or pay for completing the training. Instead, riders will have the opportunity to promote “the partnership on their delivery bags after they have completed the training.” 

The announcement comes just months after Deliveroo riders went on strike to protest poor working conditions and low pay as the company made its debut on the London Stock Exchange. In March, an analysis conducted by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism of thousands of invoices from Deliveroo riders found that nearly half of riders were making below minimum wage. 

The Deliveroo spokesperson also claimed that the IWGB—a trade union for couriers and delivery riders—had “specifically called for Deliveroo to introduce this,” and attached an image of the union’s alleged demands. Active bystander training, one of the six subjects covered by the training, is listed in the image, but spotting drug dealing and human trafficking are not. 

In an email to Motherboard, however, an IWGB spokesperson wrote that the solution “is definitely not more policing” and that riders are “already subject to disproportionate police stop and search and immigration checks.” 

“We condemn the initiative to get couriers policing and call for bystander training in its own right,” Alex Marshall, IWGB President, said. “Deliveroo needs to do more to protect its workforce and sexual harassment is a huge issue that needs the full attention of the company- not to be rolled into yet another PR stunt.”

In the past, police and immigration officers have explicitly targeted Deliveroo riders. On May 18, the Road and Transport authority publicly boasted on Twitter that it had stopped 48 delivery riders in coordination with immigration officials, arresting two of them. 

Update: This post has been updated with comment from IWGB.

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