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By Devina Haripersad

Senior Business/Finance journalist

Fairwork reports low pay, harsh conditions and no safety for app workers

The study finds that these workers continue to face insufficient wages, unfair working conditions and lack of benefits.

App workers – a reference to those who drive/derive work via apps such as Uber, Bolt and Mr D alike – are not adequately protected during the cost-of-living crisis. This is according to a new study by Fairwork South Africa.

The study finds that these workers continue to face insufficient wages, unfair working conditions, and lack of benefits and protection afforded to employees.

Researchers say that more than 1% of the South African workforce finds work via digital platforms such as these apps, but the report by Fairwork finds many of these workers face low pay and dangerous conditions.

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Apps according to rank

Thirteen of the most popular platforms in South Africa have been rated from 0 to 10 according to five principles of fair work (pay, conditions, contracts, management and representation) in this report.

SweepSouth, an app that offers home cleaning, gardening services, electricians, plumbers and more, ranks the highest with 7 out of 10 points.

It is followed by getTOD, M4JAM and Mr D with 6 points each. getTOD helps its users find tradesman in areas, while M4JAM is a micro-jobbing platform that connects brands to an on-demand workforce through their mobile device. MrD is the popular food delivery service

Droppa, Indriver and SecretAgent are at the bottom of the 2022 ranking, as they could not provide evidence that they meet any Fairwork criteria of decent work.

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Multinational companies like Uber or Bolt also scored poorly, with 2 and 1 points respectively.

Platform scores in 2022 have been overall lower than last year. SweepSouth, M4JAM and NoSweat, which scored 8 points in 2021, have seen their scores drop to 7, 6 and 5 points respectively.

Similarly, Uber and Uber Eats have moved from 4 points in 2021 to 2 in 2022. These changes are partially explained by the adjustments made to the principles of Fair Conditions and Fair Representation for this year’s scoring.

Workers don’t have a real say in working conditions

While in previous years it was enough for platforms to have a written policy to achieve these points, this year they were asked for its practical application by providing evidence they compensate workers for their inability to work and that workers have a real say in their working conditions. None of the platforms studied this year could prove either of the criteria.

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The report shows how these app platform workers continue to be affected by the lingering effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the current cost of living crisis. Regardless of the sector, most app platform workers reported transportation costs as the biggest contributor to their work-related expenses.

As independent contractors, app platform workers must cover all costs associated with their work. With rising fuel prices, some workers reported that their hourly costs exceeded their estimated hourly pay, and this extreme situation can lead them to accept more risk in their work.

Almost half the app platform workers interviewed this year raised safety as one of their main challenges. Delivery and ride-hailing drivers interviewed pointed out that the threat of hijacking and assault was a daily worry, a reality brought into focus recently with the murder of Abongile Mafalala, a ride-hailing driver in Cape Town.

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