Volume: Volume 27 - 2023
Article type: Refereed article
Author/s: Dina Maria (Denine) Smit and Grey Stopforth
Platform work in the gig economy has become a universal phenomenon, even more so in the socially distanced landscape of COVID-19. Characteristic of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, hundreds of thousands of on-demand workers across the globe today earn a living by performing tasks assigned to them via digital platforms. The gig economy undoubtedly offers certain appealing benefits, including work flexibility and independence. As established in part 1 of this article, platform work holds vast potential to create much-needed jobs, especially for the youth, who are facing a higher degree of job precarity than any generation before them. At the same time, though, the very structure of platform work – with a peculiar triangular contracting relationship between the parties involved – renders on-demand workers vulnerable, having to carry most of the risk.
In part 2, we delve deeper into the various forms of vulnerability among on-demand workers in the gig economy, with a particular focus on developing countries such as South Africa. After a brief look at the extent to which the classification of labour could be regarded as a contributing factor to vulnerability, we draw on the International Labour Organisation (ILO) definition of vulnerability to categorise the types of vulnerability on-demand gig workers are exposed to. Four broad categories are identified, namely vulnerability relating to conditions of employment, individual and collective labour rights, dispute resolution structures, and social security protection. Each category is concretised by a brief discussion of the applicable South African statutory provisions as well as practical examples. This is followed by an overview of various international standards and recent steps taken by the ILO and the European Union to protect platform workers in the gig economy.
The article concludes with proposals on how to expand the traditional idea and categories of work in an effort to afford rights and protection – and so provide decent work – to new, future-oriented types of workers in South Africa. It is argued that South Africa needs to develop a uniquely South African approach to the future of work that has on-demand workers and their vulnerabilities at its centre.