Digital workers the more vulnerable

March 18, 2021 | 08:00
The booming of digital labour platforms has created many job opportunities in Vietnam but at the same time has brought significant challenges for the working populace.
1535 p23 digital workers the more vulnerable
The rise of app-based occupations comes with a lof of flexiblity but also insecurities for workers. Photo: Shuttlestock

Nguyen Anh Nam left his office job after three years to join the food delivery team of a technology application. Instead of coming to the office at 8am, Nam now turns on the app at 6am, takes orders, drives to restaurants around Hanoi and delivers food to customers.

Instead of working eight hours a day like before, now his working days usually end well after 8pm. However, although the working conditions are harder and more dangerous, he began to make at least twice as much compared to the VND5-7 million ($220-300) from his old job.

But the times of good earnings have come to an end. Since the pandemic broke out, the number of people signing up as shippers on food delivery apps ballooned.

“Now that orders have to be split among more shippers, my income decreased and there is also far more competition than before,” Nam said, adding that he is considering switching to a more stable job with comprehensive benefits such as social insurance, paid leave, salary, and bonuses.

“We must have orders to make money. This job is very passive and there is no labours commitment between the employee and the employer. It is not a long-term job,” he concluded.

Difficulties for platform workers

Digital platforms have the potential to create a labour revolution as the trend of freelance, autonomous, and non-traditional work is expected to accelerate. The platform economy has already taken a robust size across the globe with a significant portion of the workforce employed.

Figures from US Foreign Policy magazine show that as many as 15 per cent of the Chinese workforce (110 million workers) are platform workers, while the figures are 10 and 4.4 per cent for the United States and the United Kingdom.

While the expansive growth of the platform industry is indicative of a tech shift in consumption and employment and is often highlighted as a trend, its rise has far less positive implications on social welfare.

According to the World Employment and Social Outlook 2021 report of International Labour Organization (ILO), workers on digital platforms have to deal with the unique working conditions, the irregularity of work and income, and the lack of access to social protection, freedom of association, and collective bargaining rights.

Working hours can often be long and unpredictable. Half of online platform workers earn less than $2 per hour. In addition, some platforms have significant gender pay gaps and the COVID-19 pandemic has further exposed many of these issues.

“The new opportunities created by digital labour platforms are further blurring the previously clear distinction between employees and the self-employed. Working conditions are largely regulated by the platforms’ terms of service agreements, which are often unilaterally determined. Algorithms are increasingly replacing humans in allocating and evaluating work, and administering and monitoring workers,” the ILO wrote.

The organisation’s director-general Guy Ryder added, “The new challenges they present can be met through global social dialogue so that workers, employers, and governments can fully and equally benefit from these advances. All workers, regardless of employment status, need to be able to exercise their fundamental rights at work.”

New challenges

Nam is just one of millions of Vietnamese people working via digital platforms, who are day-to-day struggling with the same issues. The lion’s share of platform workers is involved in transport and goods delivery on popular applications.

During the first half of 2020, Grab staff were encouraged to take unpaid leaves or reduce working hours during the day to avoid staff cuts. However, the platform was still forced to cut its global workforce by 5 per cent.

Additionally, human resources experts also warn that the growing number of people opting to become shippers can negatively impact their future employment prospects and have a detrimental impact on the general employment market.

Tran Anh Tuan, vice chairman of the Association of Vocational Education in Ho Chi Minh City explained, “Many with higher education are working as ride-hailers and waste years of education. If they found the right job or established their own startup, they would surely make more money and achieve more than driving around the narrow streets.”

By Thai An

What the stars mean:

★ Poor ★ ★ Promising ★★★ Good ★★★★ Very good ★★★★★ Exceptional