IGF 2020 - Day 8 - WS289 Women and the platform economy: Access, Autonomy and Agency

The following are the outputs of the real-time captioning taken during the virtual Fifteenth Annual Meeting of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), from 2 to 17 November 2020. Although it is largely accurate, in some cases it may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors. It is posted as an aid to understanding the proceedings at the event, but should not be treated as an authoritative record. 




Had to recognize some safety delivery workers that have trade union are represented by that.  And then we have another new type of which is called app which is process that is really interesting because it's workers that are struggling to have a new union be registered in the ministry of labor that is for representing all the apps.  Nonetheless one thing that is really ‑‑ that it's really bringing hope in the trade union process of the platform economy in Latin America is how they are becoming regional.  We have some ‑‑ we have had some experiences of trikes that are all over the region at the same moment in the same day.  And so we have strikes coming from Ecuador, Bogota, Argentina and Chile, all the same day making a regional movement to protect the working cons of these workers.

>> Their representation of Argentina and Ecuador is remarkable how women are leading the process of manage who have the trade union being shown and having demands of workers being put out so government tried to find a solution for these workers public opinion started talking about workers because they are in really bad conditions.  Leapt with struggles and need solution to the state.  In Argentina we're preparing a law to find an answer for workers and this will give them collective rights but also will do if you work less than 32 hours a week, then you have a more flexibles what you can do for timetables and what you can choose and also you have minimum coverage and if you work more than 32 hours, we're trying to prepare to put it in Congress and approve it in the next couple months they should be rights as worker but also the representation as a trade union improvement in Argentina and Chile also the struggles and organization of workers is really answering some of the demands and they are also gaining some right but it's all through the judicial sector.  They have to case the file and have to make it a trial and gain rights, case by case.  And there's not ‑‑ even though there's some projects of law going in the Congress they didn't find a solution yet.  In some countries like Colombia this is not in the table.  The governments do not want to speak about ‑‑ they say they're entrepreneurs, but I think 

>> MODERATOR:  Sofia, would you wrap up in a minute?

>> Yeah.  I'm wrapping up.

>> Okay

>> SOFIA: I think the regional struggle is bringing flowers into this struggle because some countries do not want to answer to these demands and to the trade union boom and in general in Latin America the regional union, the regional strategy that these workers are having with the feminist movement specifically is going to bring answers I think in the next couple of months and years to come.

>> MODERATOR: Thank you for that, Sofia, overview of worker strategies as well as some gains made in the Latin America context which you already pointed out to give some kind of hope for workers globally.  So next we have looking at issues around autonomy.  So researcher, social entrepreneur and coordinator of social law project at the University of Western Cape and she's also project manager for digital platform cooperative project.  Over to you. 

>> FAIRUZ MULLAGEE:  It's afternoon here.  And thanks to the previous speakers, I wasn't entirely sure how the program was run, but I'm pleased that I've been left for the last input because I do believe that autonomy depends access and action that will determine the nature of ought on me.  Access and agency.  As I preparing this I thought it was necessary when we look at how to imagine social protection of platform work, my background, my research has been with domestic work sector in South Africa mainly.  And familiarity with domestic work in other parts of Africa.

And I think it's important also to note that you know South Africa was one of the few countries to have legislation specifically for domestic workers as early as 2012.  Played a very important role in the adoption of convention 189.  That as a background also in terms of when we're reimagining social protection in the age of platform work, we assume that there has been a shift.  And I felt it's important to just reflect on what that shift has been.  We talked about you know we come from a kind of organizational work ‑‑ organization of work in terms of what we referred to as standard work.

Somebody goes to an office or whatever the case may be.  And legislation has been sort of very much developed around standard work and organization of work in a very standard kind of way.

Then we saw a shift to non‑standard work with agencies, sort of intervening in that relationship process.   You know, so taking the direct relationship between employer and employee away.  Until we find ourselves in this situation referred to as the platform economy.  And bear in mind that my you know what sort of lies behind my thinking is very much the domestic work sector which is predominantly women in South Africa.

So what has been the digital impact.  I think there's a lot of mist fiction of technology which I think also clouds the issues that we've been dealing with.  And so the challenges and over time from standard work to platform work what we've seen is the evolution of labor acts and Social Security rights.

So that is sort of permeated the shift that you see to where we are now.  And what does that really mean?  Economic and social exclusion, unemployment, poverty and hunger.  And sadly, the pandemic has amplified those issues and the cracks in our society.

At the same time we do believe ‑‑ and having worked in the sector which has often been described as hard to organize sector, we see the technology as an opportunity as a tool for transformation.  So on one hand we see it as a tool for transformation.  And, on the other hand, we see it as an opportunity for reorganizing work and society with improved collective bargaining because we've seen out collective bargaining has also been eroded.

So I'm pleased to hear what's happening in Latin America.  And the kind of solidarity which has been both among platform workers there.

One of the big issues and it's come up here ‑‑ I think Sofia mentioned it ‑‑ is this notion of misclassification.  The misclassification of workers as independent contractors.  And that obviously revolves around the relationships and it's about ‑‑ we talk about misclassification in terms of relationships based on existing laws.

So we see with platform owners, the obfuscation of employment relations.  They've given up the responsibility as employers.  They argue and we've seen it in our platforms with domestic workers as well.

They are kind of driven by algorithms, and they can turn you off if they establish a patterns of organization so they just discontinue or disconnect you from the platform.  They found that the same would apply for workers who become ill, you know, you just get deactivated from the platform.  When you inform your company that you've ‑‑ that you're pregnant and in total contravention of the laws.  So those are relationships.  The misclassification enabled platform owners to have the kind of power that we've seen exerted over workers across the world.  But we've also seen challenges to that kind of misclassification.

So in terms of this relationship, you have a platform owner, and you have the end users.  And you have the providers of goods and services what we would refer to as workers.  I've spoken about some of the deficits, the social prediction deficits created by this new way of work.  Exclusion, we see greater unemployment.  Digital inequality itself is exclusionary.  Many platform workers are less skilled, you know, your more informal workers, exclusion is a big problem.  Remuneration another big problem.

You know, platform workers are made to be we are told constantly, in terms of the domestic work in this country the minimum wage is very, very low and platform companies will tell you but we pay our workers way above the minimum wage.  They don't tell you that they have now excluded ‑‑ may seem like you're learning a lot more on a gig by gig basis but you've been totally excluded from the kind of social predictions that the law and labor law in the country and constitution allows for.  So you're made to believe that you're earning more when, in fact, you're actually have been excluded from other social benefits.

Working conditions again it's made ‑‑ workers are made to believe that you have great flexibility.  But what is not communicated or it's kind of how people are fooled to believe that you're flexible.  You can work when you like.  But what in fact happens is fragmentation of work.  On one hand, workers are required to carry the cost between gigs which doesn't happen.  A standard employment situation.  For that to organize another deficit which you know curtails the ability to conditions companies name an algorithm.  It's all about the tick.  In domestic work in women's work we also we very diminishment reducing work we see this constantly cleaning services and perpetuating old cleavages.  So you know, where do we go from here.  How do we ensure greater protections.   You know, based on literature, based on our domestic workers of the year's ‑‑ I'd also like to point out that the issues that domestic workers have faced in the 10 years that I've been working in the sector, are exactly the same issues that workers are facing today.  Definitely of organizing fragmentation.  The fact that work is so optimized, which makes it hard.  You don't know who the employer is.  You are running to create and ensure that you have an interim that organizing ‑‑ you know becomes secondary to your survival.

So in terms of going forward, what kind of regulated frameworks can be designed to protect platform workers.

And you believe promotion of rights and protection should be the underlying feature of the new ‑‑ way regulation isn't adequate when new regulation is required.  So a pushback against this super exploitation that we've witnessed with platforms in recent times.

So promotion of rights and protection which actually seriously pushes back this super exploitation, appropriate regulation of work especially platforms, and then that needs to be placed on the agenda once again it doesn't matter whether you are in a platform or what is a platform anyway?  The issue of misclassification ‑‑

>> MODERATOR: Sorry.  Just ask you to wrap up now in another minute, Fairuz.

>> FAIRUZ MULLAGEE:  Just quickly in terms of principles that should govern such approach principles of fair work, principles that counteract monopolistic behavior.

And if I can just wrap up, you know, and say again, autonomy based on principles of fairness as the outcome of access and agency would require organized and empowered platform workers.

And thank you for the time.

>> Thank you.  Thank you for taking us through some key structural challenges around the needs of work ‑‑ nature of work as well as some of the solutions and ways to go forward.

So I would just request all the participants to type on chat if you have any preferences for the breakout sessions that you want to join.

So there are three breakout rooms and each of the speakers will be in the breakout rooms that they spoke about.  So there's one on agency.  There's one on autonomy and one on access.

You can just type in the chat if you have a preference for any of these.

And I would request Maria to just assign randomly if there are people who haven't shared their preferences as well.

So we have about 20 minutes left in the session.  So we'll take about 15 minutes.  And I would ask Maria to bring us back with five minutes to close.

(Breakout session)

The law gives you all the rights of the national law. But with the flexibility, let's say if you work two hours, then your employer should be putting the amount of money to the Social Security that corresponds to those two hours.  And if you want Social Security, you need to pay the rest.  And, if you want to enter to healthcare system, for example.

And for example vacations.  You have vacations but only for those two hours that you work.  So it's like they give you a personage of the amount of hours you work in a month.  And the salary also it's a calculus made by our minimum wage law.  And it's a little bit above the minimum wage but you need to have the salary according to the amount of hours you work.  And the only thing that we did is that we put a clause that says you cannot reflect assignment that the platform is giving to you.  Because otherwise the problem will be that workers will say I have a minimum wage.  But I do not take any jobs.  And the company has to pay me nonetheless.

So we said that you can't unless you case a file ‑‑ you file a case saying that you don't want to do some specific delivery because the customer is really bad and harasses you or ever.  In that case you can, but can it not say no.  You are too far away and whatever.  If you work more than 32 hours a week, you work more than 32 hours a week, then you have the right to ask for all the coverage that our national law has.  And so in that case, the company has to pay you full Social Security, full healthcare, full wage, you have the right to have vacation as normal as any other, worker in Argentina.  And you have to work more than 32 hours a week.  If you work less, then you have this flexible type of system where you get paid by a percentage of what you work.

And ‑‑

>> Sorry, Sofia.  I wanted to know about the women workers.  So this law is for all the workers.  But what about ‑‑ what are the issues and concerns about women workers there?

>> With women workers there's a specific clauses in the law that says that the algorithms cannot discriminate against them and that the ministry of labor can see the algorithm and source code whenever they want to.  To check if there's discrimination against women.  And if there's an algorithmic bias.  And also you can choose your schedules according to your care work that you have at home.  Even if you are into the more than 32 hours a week system, you can choose your schedules.  And you can conciliate the productive and reproductive work in case you work more than 32 hours.

So that's the answers that we gave to women.  To check the source code and to check the algorithm because there's a lot of algorithmic bias.  And that's the answer that we gave to women.  This is being discussed.  It's not approved yet.  You cannot say that this is the case for the Argentine law because it's in this discussion.  And they're preparing this to send it to Congress.  It's not in Congress yet.  But we're trying to make a solution for them in terms of technical issues and in terms of care work.

>> MODERATOR: Sofia, do you think this will address the issues that were highlighted in the presentation around unfair pay as well as company policies that are disallowed women workers from designing schedules where they can take up work in the night, for example?

>> SOFIA:  Well I don't think a law can answer all the problems.  But, if the ministry of labor closed the right to check the algorithm and check evaluation system, maybe you can stop some of the problems like the pay problem and algorithmic bias.  But the fact that women tend to choose night hours because during the day ‑‑ that's not something the law can solve.  You need a more social and national policy to address that.  That the problem is that you don't have care networks to give ‑‑ to leave your kids.  That's the problem.  You cannot go through a law and platform workers but it should be solved in another way trying to build care networks.

Because that's the main issue that women do not have a place to leave their children so they have to work in crazy hours.

And so I think it's not the answer you should not be looking at the platform law but to other type of instruments.

>> We have two more minutes if anybody has any other questions or things to discuss?  If not, I can just talk about another issue that we were looking at in the Pakistani context.  We found that there was a solution to the fact that platforms often outsource, there's a message to return to the main session.  But I'll just quickly finish.  We saw that in the Pakistani context a lot of women were continuing to remain with on‑demand platforms because, instead of outsourcing indirect costs like transportation, the main platforms there specifically for domestic workers are covering those indirect costs such as transportation such as using data packs in that.  So that actually went the long way in retaining workers on the platforms.  And we hadn't seen this before in other countries.  So I wanted to mention that as a strategy.  Retain women workers.

As a message to return to the main group, I think we can just click on leave room and we can return to the main session.

Thanks to Sofia and everyone else for this discussion.

>> Can we take an extra five minutes?

>> Okay.  Thanks.

We'll just wait another minute for everyone to come back.  And then we can start with the report back.

So just for people who are joining in now, we are doing a short report back.  Because it's okay for us to run over by around 10 minutes.

So we'll start with the session on agency if that's okay.

>> TANDON:  You want me to speak?

>> We'll just do a short report back, I meant access, not agency.  Sorry.

>> AAY USH:  Yeah, so one of the key questions that came up was around sort of what skills would be important in especially in light of the sort of barriers to ‑‑ and then sort of enabling effect of participation in the platform economy.  And none of us were very well placed to completely answer that question.

Yeah.  We spoke about how we have the ability to do financial transactions continues to be an important problem.

It comes to getting for using digital application is different from that for men and women.  That is something that needs to be factored in.  We spoke about how it is important to further non‑technical without which they receive ‑‑ more and more unavailable to men especially ‑‑ and this is a finding especially from our experience at the grassroots.  And then we spoke about what can we do to make sort of access to the platform economy more sort of equitable in terms of design the platforms or behavior or even government action.  We ‑‑ the group specifically about how we need to talk about ‑‑ talk more about how accessing it is not regularly helpful and as someone pointed out in presentation does not lead to effective participation.  And yeah and how the experience ‑‑ how sort of the offline norms sort of that country existed and structuring of society already precludes access to phones, access to financial agency.  And how the SNG model could be an effective one and someone else talked about an interesting point again on how men learn from other men but the rest of the thought was we got interrupted by us coming into the main.  If you'd like to finish thoughts on chat, please do.

>> Thanks for that, Sofia, or anyone else want to report back on the second group on agency? 

>> I think you can go ahead.

>> Okay. great.

>> Tandon:  Great.  So there was a session on agency we were largely discussing Argentinean law and Sofia was telling us about how the process actually came about so there was a lot of national coverage and attention paid to workers issues in the platform economy.  And after that gained traction, there was some discussion and consultation around not putting workers in the sort of national law because that might be the easiest solution the national labor law that might be an easy solution but a lot of workers were migrants or students and they wanted the flexibility that the platform economy was bringing.  So the draft law that came up after this consultation process sort of prorated some of these benefits such as taking or getting social security contributions from employers.  These are all prorated and salary as well, of course, are prorated to the number of hours that you are working.  If you're working more than 32 hours a week, you get all the rights that are available in the national labor law.

And with regards to women workers in particular, there is a provision for an audit which would allow ministries to look at whether or not there are gender biases and women workers can choose try to make their schedules more flexible even if they are working for more than 32 hours.  They will try to balance the productive work.

So this was all insight on the Argentinean law by Sofia which was very useful.

And yeah, we briefly discussed some industry strategies as well, but this was a lot of our discussion.

I'll hand it over to the third group to do report back as well.

>> Hi, everyone.  I can report back ‑‑ if Fairuz if that's okay with both of you.

So we had ‑‑ we mainly focused on the question of what kind of regulatory framework could we design to make platforms more accountable.  It was generally agreed that regulatory frameworks are essential.  But only if their implemented properly.  And yeah, the implementation of such frameworks was raised as something that's quite difficult to do and there was a focus on South Africa context where it was mentioned that in South Africa particularly for the domestic work sector there have been specific laws created to protect domestic workers.  However, these laws haven't had the best implementation which kind of limits their effectiveness.

There was also a discussion around kind of what Fairuz mentioned in her presentation.  We really need better working agency and access to improve laws under implementation.

So both workers and users of the service need to be empowered to demand more equitable use of the services.  Unless that level of organization is improved, difficult to implement the kind of changes we'd like to see.

Moe mentioned there's been a lot of movement in the platform economy organization space particularly in India over the past several years.  Also in other countries as well.  In India there are several unrecognized worker collectives for gig workers.  But still without improving worker agency these laws are not going to change.

At the end, Fairuz mentioned that fair work's code of good practice is a good starting point for considering how to improve the platform economy in terms of contract management pay and representation.

And that, like, discussing the fair work principles in kind of such a setting as this with like‑indeed individuals is a good place to start to kind of push for better regulatory frameworks.

I hope I covered everything, I.f not, then please step in, someone.

>> I think that brings us to the end of our session.  And it was really interesting.  The presentation about the nuances of women's access to platform work you know the way access doesn't guarantee good work.  Thank you to Sofia for bringing us insights from what's happening in Latin America and how worker agency is being rethought of and immunization efforts going on there.  Thank you to Fairuz telling us about autonomy and how access and agency is really needed to forward that and the principles of fair work need to be followed in order to improve working conditions for everyone.

Thank you, everyone, for joining us and participating in the breakout rooms and for all your contributions as well.  I do have to ask if anyone would like to make voluntary commitments for the IGF.  If you would like to we can put th