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 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.