Opinion / 24 January 2020, 11:30am / Wesley Diphoko
CAPE TOWN - Platforms such as Uber have changed what it means to work. They have partly created opportunities for people to work.
The flip side is that they have also created what is considered to be exploitative and insecure working conditions.
This concern inspired the World Economic Forum (WEF) to publish a charter, ahead of the WEF 2020 gathering, which proposed principles that could improve working conditions in a world that has been disrupted by technology and innovation.
Leaders of some of the top platform companies, including Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi, are shaping what is called “platform work”.
They have developed a charter, which states that working for these platforms should include the following principles: diversity, inclusion, safety, wellbeing, reasonable pay, fair working conditions as well as learning and development.
They have emphasised that platforms should strive to be inclusive and usable by diverse populations of workers and should encourage qualified participants from all national, religious, gender, sexual orientation, ethnic backgrounds, including people living with disabilities.
In view of unsafe conditions under which some workers labour under, such as Uber and Lyft drivers, they have also agreed that platforms should have policies and guidelines in place to protect workers from health and safety risks.
Platform companies have in the past been accused of abusing workers by deactivating their accounts on reportedly unfair practices.
The new Platform Work Charter has also suggested that terms and conditions should be transparent, clearly stated, easily understandable, and provided to workers in an accessible form.
Grounds and procedures for account deactivation should be clear, and platforms should work to establish processes to challenge decisions where relevant, with multi stakeholder support if applicable. Processes should respect confidentiality where appropriate.
Workers should be able to decline to accept tasks offered or decline to work at certain times.
Platforms should, where relevant, be entitled to log off or deactivate workers who have been inactive for a prolonged period and to apply disincentives where workers decline to complete work they have accepted. The charter goes on to suggest that platforms should promote a culture of transparency and human accountability across use of algorithms, and ensure that fairness and non-discrimination are a priority in the design of algorithms.
Leaders of platform companies also addressed the biggest elephant in the “platform room” - payment of workers. They have agreed that workers should have full transparency on the basis for what they will earn before deciding whether to accept tasks.
In cases where minimum wage thresholds exist they have agreed that workers classified as employees should earn at least the minimum wage of their jurisdiction, proportional to the time spent actively working and accounting for reasonable expenses for their mode of work.
They have also agreed that workers who set their own rates should be able to do so in a way that reflects market dynamics. In terms of tips, they agreed that tips should always be in addition to reasonable earnings and should go entirely to workers.
One of the most critical suggestions to come out of the charter is the idea of enabling workers to learn and be further developed.
The charter states that platform work should encourage and enable individual professional development.
It also states that all stakeholders - including governments and platforms - should collaborate to ensure that workers have access to affordable educational and upskilling programmes to support their professional development.
Regulation should be adapted as appropriate to enable platforms to support the provision of such programmes to workers who are not classified as employees. While the principles are progressive and commendable, they will now require individual countries to implement them in line with their regional work policies.
If these principles are implemented they will truly be a game changer for platform work. Until then, society should continue to raise concerns about the abuse of working conditions inspired by tech led platform companies.
Wesley Diphoko is the Editor-in-Chief of Fast Company (South Africa). You can follow him on Twitter via: @WesleyDiphoko