backbone of the economy
Globally, domestic workers represent 2.3% of the world’s workforce – around 76 million people – and most of them work informally without proper contracts or benefits.
More than three out of four are women.
And women in sub-Saharan Africa are particularly vulnerable, according to UN Women, which says that 63% of the world’s women who live in extreme poverty are found in that region.
Proponents of the sector say the platforms open doors for people who would otherwise not find paid work, and that workers love the new system of flexible, on-demand jobs.
Among the biggest platforms are South Africa’s Sweep South, Nigeria’s Eden Life and Egypt’s Filkhedama, promising a lifeline for desperate job seekers in sectors with few other opportunities.
Critics say migrants are among the most vulnerable.
From Sudanese women sweeping Egyptian floors to Zimbabweans washing laundry for South Africans, many people on the app are away from home, without family and unable to find other work.
“I thank them for creating these jobs,” said Naldei, a 33-year-old cleaner from Zimbabwe in South Africa, where there are an estimated 1 million domestic workers.
“But we’re afraid to complain if we lose our jobs.”
Venture capitalists backed Sweep South, which now has 30,000 registered employees and was expanding into new markets before cost concerns halted expansion into Kenya and Nigeria.
Egyptian Filkhedama – born in 2014 – was bought by Sweep South a year ago as part of a grand plan to spread across the continent. It now has 300 registered domestic workers.
Nearly a third of domestic workers are already hired through agencies or platforms, according to informal worker charity WIEGO, with gig economy experts saying the figure is likely to rise as both unemployment and tech access expand across the continent. spreads.
Already at least 365 digital platforms are found in eight African countries, according to South African think tank Senfree, connecting some 4.8 million workers with an average of 92,000 users per month.
Complaints against the apps mostly center on their imbalance of power.
Sick leave is a case in point.
When Nancy woke up with the flu one winter day last year – a day she was supposed to clean a client’s house – she was forced to cancel on the Sweepstakes South Africa app, only to find that something The name of what activists say is next to the “Red Devil emoji”.
The emoji stayed for 30 days, long after his flu was gone.
“I was very embarrassed, and worried that it would affect me getting work,” said Nancy, who felt upset about challenging the ratings that track her credibility and her average customer rating. Even more had fallen.
Sweep South said that the red unhappy face—the firm insisted it was not a devil icon—appears if the cleaner’s rating drops below average. It remains there for 30 days, Sweep South said — absent any “sweepstar” appeal — and is not visible to customers.
Fairwork’s Howson said, “the constant silent threat of inaction … undermines the power and agency of those employees.”
“They don’t know if they can wake up tomorrow and have lost their livelihood.”
Allegations of wrongdoing can also put a worker on the backfoot.
A former senior employee of Sweep South said that when domestic servants were accused of theft, external mediation was carried out by an ex-police detective. The source said detectives sometimes make their decisions based on reading the body language of an activist in a video interview.
“The customer was always right,” he said, requesting anonymity for fear of retribution.
Sweep South said that while allegations of plagiarism are very rare, the culpability was determined based on “the balance of probabilities and extensive interviews of both the customer, any witnesses, and the sweepstar.”
Sweepstars found guilty are permanently disabled from the platform.
If deemed innocent, the sweepstar will be reactivated and the client may face deactivation or be reported to the relevant authorities.
Sweep South did not provide figures on how many customers or cleaners were banned from the app.
The biggest bugbear for most gig workers is fair pay – or the lack thereof.
Sweep South stipulates on its site that sweepstars receive between 80% and 96% of the total booking fee, depending on their experience, and 65% to offset costs during the first “2 to 3 month trial period”. ” Get.
But domestic workers interviewed said that even after a 400-hour trial period, their pay fluctuates from region to region, making budgeting nearly impossible.
Cleaners across all three apps said they could spend up to 65% of their daily earnings on data and public transport to get to work. Sub-Saharan Africa has some of the highest data costs in the world.
Sweep South said its earning model takes into account a number of factors, from supply and demand, location, ratings of the cleaner’s performance, and the date and length of any job.
In Nigeria, Dare, 22, has worked for both local cleaning app Eden Life and Sweep South, which was launched in Nigeria in July 2022. Eden Life was established in 2019 with 70+ domestic workers.