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Uber, Taxify score poorly in Oxford University study on South African digital platform working conditions

By Yanga Sibembe 26 March 2019

An Uber app is seen on a mobile phone, in the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, 15 October 2015. Uber Technologies Inc. is an American international transportation company which develops, markets and operates the Uber mobile app, allowing consumers with smartphones to submit a trip request which is then routed to Uber drivers who use their own cars. To date the service is available in 58 countries and 300 cities worldwide. Uber drivers in Australia, an estimated 15,000 and rising, face increased scrutiny by the Australian Tax Office (ATO) which wants to make sure income tax and GST are paid by them. EPA/DAVE HUNT AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND OUT

Oxford University academics, through the Fairwork Foundation, have published the world’s first rating system for working conditions in the digital economy. The report was piloted in South Africa and India and sheds light on the working conditions at digital platforms in both countries.

Uber and Taxify in South Africa could do more to improve working conditions for their driver partners, new research shows.

The research, conducted in conjunction with the International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore (IIIT-B), the University of Cape Town, the University of Manchester and the University of the Western Cape, is the first of its kind in the world. The results were officially released on 25 March 2019.

The Fairwork Foundation’s mandate, according to its website, is “highlighting the best and worst practices” in the emerging platform economy.

In a partnership with the International Labour Organisation, we have brought together platforms, workers, trade unions, regulators, and academics to set global principles for fair work in the platform economy.”

The report looked at conditions on digital working platform such as BOTTLES (alcohol delivery app), SweepSouth (cleaning service app) Uber and Taxify (transportation apps) in South Africa, and Zomato, Flipkart and Rapido in India.

Fairwork has five core principles on which it based its scoring, and each principle counts for two points, equating to overall fairness, the score out of 10. The principles are:

  • Fair Pay
  • Conditions
  • Contracts
  • Management
  • Representation

Fairwork’s Mark Graham, professor of Internet Geography at Oxford, said:

The Fairwork rating system shines a light on best and worst practice in the platform economy. This is an area in which for too long, very few regulations have been in place to protect workers. These ratings will enable consumers to make informed choices about the platforms and services they need when ordering a cab, a takeaway or outsourcing a simple task.”

In discussion with Fairwork, the NoSweat platform, which was the highest-scoring platform on the South African report (8/10), has introduced significant changes in all five areas of fairness.

It now has a formal policy to pay above the South African minimum wage after workers’ costs are considered; it has a clear process to ensure clients on the platform agree to protect workers’ health and safety; and for workers to lodge grievances about conditions.

Says co-founder of NoSweat, Wilfred Greyling: “NoSweat Work believes firmly in a fair deal for all parties involved in any work we put out. Fairwork has helped us formalise those principles and incorporate them into our systems. The NoSweat Work platform is built on people and relationships; we never hide behind faceless technology.”

A Taxify driver, who works for the lowest-ranked platform in the South African rankings (4/10), spoke to Daily Maverick on condition of anonymity for fear of being “blocked” by the platform.

He said that even though he understood the reasoning behind the Fairwork report, and thought that what they were trying to achieve was commendable, it was difficult to compare the working conditions in traditional work spaces with digital platform working conditions.

The platforms (digital work and traditional work) are not similar, so it’s not easy to implement structures meant for traditional employment across digital platforms. Before Taxify, I was with Uber. And I know they blocked drivers for trying to form any kind of union… You also have to bear in mind that digital platforms are disruption technology — they disrupt how the market functions, so they are difficult to regulate.”

Uber, one of the most prominent digital platforms, was the only one to feature on ranking lists of both countries. It was the second-lowest ranked platform in South Africa, receiving a fairness score of 5/10. In India, it ranked dead last, receiving a fairness score of 2/10.

According to Fairwork’s findings, areas that Uber in South Africa failed to achieve related to its contracts (two areas) and representation (three areas). It achieved well in terms of pay, working conditions and management.

Responding to the report, Uber said: “Over the past years we have made a number of changes to offer a better experience with more support and more protection, including through our Partner Injury Protection programme, new safety features and access to quality and affordable private healthcare cover for driver-partners and their families, on a voluntary basis. We will continue to work hard to earn our partners trust and ensure that their voices are heard as we take Uber forward together.”

Areas that Taxify/Bolt failure to achieve also related to its contracts (three areas) and representation (three areas).

Taxify requested more information on the research before it would comment. (This article will be updated with their comment when they do so.)

None of the platforms reviewed by Fairwork in India received a score higher than 5/10.

Fairwork says the rankings will be updated yearly, with the United Kingdom and Germany to be added to the next set of rankings. DM

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