Gig Work on Digital Platforms: SweepSouth – Platform-Based Domestic Work

In a project for USAID, we undertook a study of digital labour platforms in emerging economies.

This study is part of a series of case studies we conducted for USAID. We examined 4 digital platforms targeting workers in emerging economies and their impact on workers’ agency, access to employment opportunities, and employment terms and conditions.

SWEEPSOUTH

Sweepsouth is a platform for on-demand cleaning services in South Africa. The platform was the biggest on-demand cleaning service app in 2018 with 7,500 registered workers, over 150,000 app downloads, and 40,000 users. This case study examined the impact SweepSouth has had on employment conditions and relationships, wages, and the ability of workers to collectivise in the domestic work sector in South Africa.

The domestic work sector globally has some of the most exploitative conditions of work and disparities in gender and racial representation. In South Africa, women make up 97 percent of the sector, while 91 percent identify as black and the remaining 9 percent identify as mixed race. The central questions focussed on the impact of digital technologies on this sector work - had it impacted wages, employment terms and conditions in any way? What did the digitalisation of domestic services mean for the ability of workers to collectivise and their bargaining capacity? Did it improve workers’ access to employment opportunities?

We interviewed Sweepsouth workers in Cape Town, along with members of the South African Alliance of Domestic Services and Allied Workers Union, researchers at the University of Western Cape and labour market experts at the Human Sciences Research Council. We found that while platforms like Sweepsouth have the potential to disrupt the domestic work sector which has remained unchanged for ages by standardising wages and professionalising the service, it reproduces existing patriarchal and racist inequities. However, rethinking the platform design and structure to prioritise worker well being could bring positive changes for workers and the domestic work sector.



Authors

Zothan Mawii

Zothan Mawii is Research Fellow at Tandem Research. Her current work focuses on the impact of digital technologies on labour markets in the global south and the intersection between gender and emerging technologies. She has been studying the impact of digital labour platforms in emerging economies, conducting extensive field work in India, South Africa, and Myanmar. Key to her research are questions around changing employment relations and the nature of work, worker well-being, and worker rights in technology mediated work. Her research interests include digital labour, online social movements, the care economy, feminist perspectives on technology, and internet rights. She has previously worked on issues around internet shutdowns and online violence against women. She holds a MA in Digital Culture and Society from King's College London and a BA (Hons) in English from St. Stephen's College, DU.

Urvashi Aneja

Urvashi Aneja is Founding Director of Tandem Research. She works on the governance and sociology of emerging technology; southern partnerships for humanitarian and development assistance; and the power and politics of global civil society. Urvashi is also Associate Fellow at Chatham House and a columnist for the Indian Express. She has a PhD from the Department of Politics & International Relations, University of Oxford. Previously, she was Associate Professor of International Relations at the OP Jindal Global University and Research Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.