Worker Rights, Agency and Collective Bargaining: A look at digital platforms in India, South Africa, Myanmar and Online work.
In a study for USAID, we looked at the impact of various types of digital platforms on worker wellbeing and rights in the Global South.
Digital interventions in the world of work have transformed the way we work and the nature of work itself. The impact of these technologies in the global south is informed in large part by the local labour market realities and socio-cultural conditions. Last year, in a project for USAID, we undertook a study of digital labour platforms in emerging economies. The aim of the project was to investigate how and to what extent digital labour platforms in the global south have impacted workers, their access to job opportunities, their working conditions, and their capacity for bargaining and collective action.
The case studies were spread across 3 countries and 4 fairly different types of labour platforms. We studied Quikrjobs - a job-matching platform in Bangalore, India;
Sweepsouth - an on-demand domestic service app in Cape Town, South Africa;
Worker solidarity forums used by Amazon Mechanical Turk workers in India;
and Golden Dreams - a worker voice app meant to correct information asymmetries for migrant workers moving from Myanmar to Thailand and other parts of South Asia.
We interviewed workers, platform management, labour market experts, and civil society organisations to get a holistic view of the impact platforms have had on workers in each case. What we found deviated from some of the existing narratives about platform work coming from industrialised nations in the global north. In many cases, platforms presented one of few viable opportunities for work in countries where unemployment rates were high and jobs available were few. This was especially true for migrant workers, women, and those with disabilities. While platforms present opportunities for standardisation and democratisation by lowering barriers to entry, we found that they risk further entrenching existing exploitative, racist, and sexist practices and codifying it into the new world of work. Platforms, in their design and structure, isolate workers from one another, making it extremely difficult for workers and unions to collectivise but some workers have found ways to coordinate and support each other through social media groups.
In our recommendations, we emphasise the importance of alternative ownership models, better design principles to bring workers to the centre of platforms, civil society involvement, and investing in workers capacity to collectivise to safeguard workers and build a more sustainable platform economy that works for workers.