Money and Markets

SA ‘Gig’ workers should be earning at least R41/hour as a 'living wage' - but most don't

Business Insider SA

  • South Africa is making some progress when it comes to the lot of gig workers in the country.
  • This is according to Fairwork, a body which highlights the best and worst practices in the platform economy.
  • Only three of the local 11 gig platforms, however, in the report pay a 'living wage'.
  • Workers' costs sometimes mean their take-home earnings may fall below the local minimum wage.
  • For more stories visit

South Africa is making some progress when it comes to gig workers in the country, according to a recent report on the best and worst practices in the platform economy. But while most South African gig workers earn the minimum wage, the majority fall short of a living wage.

Gig workers are independent contractors or freelancers who work temporary jobs typically in the service sector. They enter into formal agreements with on-demand companies through digital interfaces to provide services to the company's clients. 

According to the Fairwork South Africa Ratings 2021: Labour Standards in the Gig Economy the third annual report, almost all platforms operating in South Africa pay at least the legislated minimum wage R21.69/hour.

However, the research found that despite six of the 11 platforms providing evidence that it was paying workers at, or above the minimum wage, only three demonstrated they paid what Fairwork called a "living wage" of R41/hour.

The report was compiled by the Fairwork Project, which looks at working conditions in freelance and and microwork platforms across 75 countries. The project, a collaboration between the Universities of Oxford, Cape Town, the Western Cape and Manchester, ranks 11 overseas and local gig economy platforms, such as Uber, SweepSouth, and Mr D on what it called a set of fair work standards.

In coming up with a R41/hour living wage, Fairwork considered not just the amount paid by the platform to the workers for hours worked, but also "the cost of providing task-specific equipment and pay work-related costs out of pocket".

"Platform workers often have substantial work-related costs to cover, such as transport between jobs, supplies, or fuel, insurance, and maintenance on a vehicle. Workers' costs sometimes mean their take-home earnings may fall below the local minimum wage,” says the report.

The report also notes that it when it comes to covering these expenses, workers often must work very long hours.

The three platforms that paid their workers a living wage are:

  • GetTOD – A platform that connects tradespeople with people wanting someone to provide a home improvement service for them.
  • NoSweat – A job placement service for freelancers and people looking for permanent employment.
  • M4Jam – A "micro jobs" platform that allows people to access the gig economy

Aside from looking into issues such as fair pay, the report also measures platforms on conditions of employment, the fairness of the contracts, the management of their workers, and whether they are allowed to in effect unionise.

Steady progress

The report says when it comes to some aspects of improving the lot of gig workers there has been marked improvements in some areas and slower progress in others.

It points out that eight of the platforms, for instance, can demonstrate that they took action to protect workers from risks that arise on their jobs – which is especially significant in the Covid crisis given the nature of their work.

"In contrast to previous years, there was also solid evidence that six platforms had made efforts to more actively improve working conditions. These included providing loss of earnings compensation for workers during the 2020 lockdowns, providing educational opportunities and affordable insurance for workers."

Even so, gig workers are particularly vulnerable in the Covid crisis, as they do not have UIF or sick pay, and might not have ability to work from home.

Liability is limited

The platforms also did well when it came to basic levels of fairness in their contracts, as they generally showed clear and accessible terms and conditions.

But even though eight of the 11 showed they had "fair contracts" the report noted that "only four platforms were able to evidence that the employment status of their workers is clearly defined and that they do not unreasonably exclude liability on the part of the platform".

When it comes to managing gig workers, "eight of the platforms had codified their deactivation policies, providing workers greater recourse".

Not allowed to organise collectively

An area where the platforms can do better is when it comes to allowing workers to organise collectively.

"Seven of the platforms could point to meaningful worker voice mechanisms. However, only two platforms have published public statements committing to recognise a collective body, should one be organised by their workers".

In its ranking, which marked the platforms out of 10, the Fairwork Project notes that South African based platforms on the whole did better than the overseas based ones like ride share services like Uber and Bolt.


Get the best of our site emailed to you every weekday.

Go to the Business Insider front page for more stories.