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COVID-19: 76% of digital platform workers experience huge income decrease since March- Report

By Juliet Umeh

A new survey on the impact of COVID-19 on digital platforms workers such as e-hailing or delivery apps in South Africa, Gig workers, has revealed that 76 percent of workers experienced a large decrease in income.

According to a global venture fund investing company, Flourish, that summarized how gig workers are coping with economic dislocation, more than 600 South African gig workers found that 76 percent experienced a large decrease in income since March 2020.

The key findings from the report said: “Approximately four out of five workers now earn less than $240 USD per month, compared to 16 percent before the COVID-19 lockdown. 91% are very concerned about COVID-19, specifically, how gig workers believe it will affect their ability to earn an income (46 percent) and the risk to their family’s health (26 percent).

“Some gig workers are impacted more than others. E-hailing drivers were twice as likely as delivery workers to report a significant decline in quality of life, with 83% suffering a large decrease in income.

“Coping strategies among South African gig workers vary. Some have a financial cushion, but a majority live on the edge. If they lost their main source of income, 58% of respondents reported they could not cover household expenses for a month without borrowing. Most have made sacrifices to cope with the pandemic and accompanying economic dislocation. Over half of gig workers have already reduced their household expenses, almost half borrowed money, and nearly 3 out of 4 had to rely on savings. Yet, only 1 in 5 are seeking additional income – a low figure possibly driven by the strictly enforced COVID-19 lockdown,” the report said.

As part of the survey questionnaire, gig workers were asked to share anonymous comments to describe how they are faring in the current conditions, a delivery driver said: “People are not buying as they used to do,”

“The number of deliveries has dramatically dropped. It is a big challenge now.” An e-hailing driver said, “We are eating two meals a day. That is what we can afford now.”

However, in the next six months, nearly all respondents plan to restart or continue the work they were doing before the lockdown. The majority are concerned about the ability to earn an income, find work, and cover day-to-day work expenses. For four out of five people, health risk associated with returning to work was not a top concern.
Despite recent hardships, Flourish expects continued growth in online platforms and financial tools to support gig workers. In addition to these findings, the South African edition of The Digital Hustle: Gig Worker Financial Lives Under Pressure provides early insights into how platforms and financial services providers can best serve this emerging digital workforce.

Managing partner at Flourish, Arjuna Costa, said:
“Digital platforms have made it possible for workers around the world to participate in the gig economy, providing a degree of formality and stability to their work,”. “When the coronavirus outbreak caused the global economy to come to a halt in Q1 of this year, workers were severely impacted. By tracking gig worker experiences in South Africa, and elsewhere, we hope to open conversations about how fintech companies can build lasting solutions for this vulnerable population of citizens.”

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