“Either I’m starving or I’m dying of coronavirus” – gig economy companies must do more to protect workers during

A new report has shone a light on the plight of some 50 million gig economy workers across the world since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Fairwork project, involving researchers from The University of Manchester, the University of Oxford and the International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore found that many workers are facing the impossible choice between destitution and infection, as summed up by one worker: “either I’m starving or I’m dying of coronavirus”.

The report assesses 120 platforms across 23 countries on their responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. A few ride-hailing companies like Bolt (South Africa) and Grab (Philippines) have installed physical plastic barriers between drivers and passengers, but only five of the 120 platforms had direct policies to compensate workers for loss of income caused by reduced demand for their services.

On sick pay, there have been efforts by companies such as Uber Eats in the UK to offer compensation to ill workers – however, based on an eight-hour working day, this is at best around two-thirds of what a worker would earn even at the UK national minimum wage.

The team has come up with a number of recommendations for policymakers and regulators, including:

  • Rapid access to a minimum income (equivalent to at least the local living wage) for those unable to work due to fall-off in demand, to legislative restrictions, or to pre-existing health vulnerabilities
  • Additional hazard pay for those facing additional risks while working during the pandemic
  • Waiver (not deferral) of work-related costs such as loan repayments
  • Regular, adequate, free provision of personal protective equipment: disinfectants, gloves and masks
  • Extended sick pay for those workers hospitalised by Covid-19 infection
  • Establishing an accessible communications channel for workers for all issues relating to Covid-19; adequately staffed for rapid resolution of issues

“Some platforms have stepped up to provide sick pay for workers but, as yet, too many of these responses are falling into a gap between rhetoric and reality,” Richard added. “Other platforms have opted for buck-passing: their strategy of financial support for workers is simply a set of online links to government-provided schemes; their strategy of worker protection is a set of online links to government-provided public health information.”

“They interpret “wash your hands” less in terms of the virus and more in terms of their responsibilities to their workers; throwing that responsibility onto government for financial support and onto individual workers for their own protection from coronavirus.”

The full report is available on the Fair.Work website at https://fair.work/wp-content/uploads/sites/97/2020/04/COVID19-Report-Final.pdf.

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