New tech links people with work
2017-06-15 11:48:22 -
I was excited to learn recently about a new company in South Africa that matches cleaners – mainly women – with jobs via a smartphone app. I immediately thought of Hassle, a similar service here in Ireland through which I have found extra work a number of times, cleaning houses in the Dublin 4 area.

From my experience with Hassle, there was always work available. After signing up and doing all the necessary paperwork, it didn’t take long for me to start getting texts from the company offering a cleaning gig here or there. The jobs were usually in my neighbourhood, and most of what I was offered were at least three hours each.

As soon as a text came in, it had to be responded to within 30 minutes with a simple click on ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. But one could not turn down three consecutive jobs unless they had updated their ‘availability’ calendar online. In that case, one would get a text from the office asking why they couldn’t take jobs, or be gently warned that if that persisted they wouldn’t get offers again.

This kind of working arrangement suits people who want more flexible hours and can accept work whenever they are available. It could also be used as a full-time job, although 

I know from years of doing cleaning that it is not something most would want to do full-time, as it is very tiring.

However, contrary to the South African experience, where the congress of workers unions and the labour department have been supportive of the concept and see it as something positive for workers, in Ireland services like Hassle have been met with mixed feelings.

One of these is a concern that workers are not directly employed by what’s essentially a match-making company. Cleaners with Hassle are supposed to be self-employed, which is problematic for workers such as those on student visas who are not legally allowed to be self-employed. 

Another concern is tax. When I worked through Hassle, the company charged the employer €12 an hour, of which the cleaner got €9 but still had to look after their own tax filing and registration. At that time the minimum wage was €8.65 an hour; now that it has gone up to €9.25, I wonder if the rate for Hassle cleaners has also gone up.

A very relevant concern on the Irish side is that these kind of workers have no guarantee of a ‘permanent’ job, or a guaranteed wage that can help them plan their future, their studies, or to qualify for mortgages or pension opportunities. It’s an earn-as-you-go scenario, all dependent on texts arriving. This is to say there are no people happy with this working arrangement; it simply means it is not a sustainable one for the long term.

In South Africa, which has a different economy, while sustainable jobs are important, having some sort of an income is more important than whether one can make an eternal career out of the job, as it at least puts food on the table.

While there are concerns about technology making some jobs evaporate, it also brings in new ways of connecting people with work, something that many workers who use such apps appreciate very much.

Mariaam Bhatti is a member of the Domestic Workers Action Group and Force Labour Action Group of the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland.
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