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ITF looks at mutual challenges for informal and app-based transport workers

05 Dec 2019

ITF researchers have contributed to an event looking at the key challenges facing informal and gig-economy transport workers.

Organised by Rutgers University at the International Federation of Workers’ Education Associations, Cape Town, 2-4 December, the workshop included researchers from 10 countries, including Uganda, the Philippines, South Korea, Pakistan and Nigeria.

The ITF’s work on bus rapid transit (BRT) and the formalisation of informal transport worker was presented by Dave Spooner from the Global Labour Institute, highlighting the recent BRT negotiating guide and the BRT Nairobi labour impact assessment.

John Mark Mwanika, chair of ITF urban transport steering committee, presented how the Amalgamated Transport and General Workers' Union, Uganda, has organised informal transport workers in the minibus and boda boda (mototaxi) industries.

Informal transport workers face serious challenges, such as:

  • extremely long working hours
  • low pay with the ‘target system’
  • unsafe and polluted working conditions
  • risk of harassment and violence from passengers, other workers and the police
  • corruption and bribery.

Unions often need to adapt to organise these workers because they do not have a traditional employer or bargaining counterpart.

The researchers discussed how these workers could meet their challenges through:

  • a ‘just transition’ for informal workers
  • collective organisation into cooperatives, associations and unions
  • informal transport operating models
  • training of drivers to address violence against women and the promotion of women’s employment in transport

The group of researchers on the gig economy reported that cities have seen a rise in traffic and oversupply of taxis due to app-based drivers.

Some unions have adopted a broad-based approach to organising these new drivers; bringing together the traditional taxi workers with the app-based workers. Other drivers have formed their own unions, associations or cooperatives.

The researchers also reported similarities to the experiences of informal transport works, like:

  • new drivers have their own informal networks and ways of organising to try and improve their conditions
  • their work takes place in predominantly private operators with profit and shareholders as the motive for cutting costs in operation through reducing workers’ pay and conditions

It was also pointed out that gig economy companies are collecting vast amounts of data about passengers and workers for private profit, but there should be democratic control over this data and it should be used for the common good.

Finally, it was discussed that many of these gig economy companies operate in cities around the world, and this brings opportunities for international organising, solidarity and building workers power.

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