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Uber-style apps for domestic workers in poor countries risk entrenching low incomes, insecurity and discrimination – new report

Written by Abigail Hunt, Fortunate Machingura

The rise in Uber-style apps for domestic workers in developing countries could risk further entrenching a culture of low, insecure incomes and discrimination as well as eroding established labour protections, a preliminary study by the Overseas Development Institute has warned.

As the impact of the on-demand economy on workers in the UK and other rich countries is widely debated, researchers at the UK’s leading think-tank on international development have undertaken the first study of its kind on the effect of such platforms for domestic workers in developing countries.

The report, 'A good gig? The rise of on-demand domestic work', highlights how the on-demand economy can offer some benefits to domestic workers, such as choice over working times and the ability to set hourly rates. However, evidence was also found that such apps can severely threaten access to decent work.

Lead author Abigail Hunt, Senior Research Officer at ODI, said: ‘The rise in Uber-style apps is changing the face of work for millions of people in both rich and poor countries, yet until now research has largely focused on industrialised regions such as the US and Europe. This study is aimed at addressing this gap.

‘This exploratory research shows that while this technology can offer flexibility, choice and independence, the reality is that domestic workers are also facing low income levels, little security and discrimination. The on-demand economy is still emerging in developing countries and so it is not too late for governments and companies to raise standards and ensure a fair deal for domestic workers.’

The report features a case study of on-demand apps for domestic work in South Africa, including interviews with workers themselves and purchasers.

One on-demand domestic worker, Susan, a 48-year-old from Zimbabwe, told researchers she used an app to find work. Susan said she appreciated the flexibility of on-demand work and has received many requests for her services. However, she also said she finds the wages too low and is often treated poorly by the members of households who have paid for her services.

The report makes a series of recommendations for governments, on-demand companies and domestic worker collectives and labour unions including:

  • Governments must ensure that labour laws and social security systems are fit for purpose as the on-demand economy becomes further established  
  • Companies should adhere to ethical practices, protect the rights of workers and drive up standards by engaging in dialogue with workers
  • Domestic worker collectives and unions should work with on-demand companies and regulatory authorities to ensure active participation of unions in standards setting and collective bargaining.

ENDS

Notes to editors

  • The working paper 'A good gig? The rise of on-demand domestic work' is a first-cut attempt to scope some of the major implications of the trend towards the ‘Uberisation of domestic work’
  • The findings are based on empirical evidence gained from interviews with domestic workers, service purchasers and academics in South Africa as well as a global literature review tracing the on-demand economy for domestic work and the legal, policy and regulatory framework surrounding it

For more information or to speak to the report please contact James Rush on [email protected] or +44 (0)7808 791265