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“At 23:56 on 23rd October 1963, Zambians rose in reverence of the Union Jack, the de facto national flag of the United Kingdom, for the last time as it lowered, signifying the end of British rule in Zambia.”

― Precious Mwansa-Chisa

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The gig economy is all around us. Remember the time your organisation needed researchers for six months? What about the likeable but odd millennial who comes in twice a week to tweet and manage your organisation’s social media presence? The Ulendo Taxi you booked that one late night? The make-up artist who came over to do your make-up on your best friend’s wedding day? This all constitutes gig work.

The term ‘gig economy’ refers to a work environment and market that embraces short-term employment. It differs from traditional employment in that jobs are not permanent, although gigs will vary in length, involvement and scope. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that 63 per cent of the total labour force in Africa engages in some form of self-employment. The trend towards gig work is predicted to continue growing, with people going back and forth between full-time employment and project work.

These findings are unsurprising considering that unemployment is high in Zambia, with a stable ‘8 to 5’ being available for very few. Furthermore, a significant number of those in formal employment are underemployed and unable to meet their various financial needs, thus they may rely on gig work to supplement their income.

Gig work in Zambia spans across a large number of sectors, most especially the agricultural, construction and manufacturing sectors. Individuals are engaged on a temporary basis during peak periods to carry out specific tasks such as planting and harvesting crops. This largely attracts low skilled workers and is labour intensive, with relatively low income that sometimes barely scrapes the minimum wage ceiling.

Recently, however, there has been a shift to more skilled and less labour intensive gigging. Take for example Ulendo Taxi. It emulates ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, using independent drivers and sells the opportunity as a chance to “choose your own hours, be your own boss, and make great money with your car.” The drivers get paid per gig and decide on their own workload and pace, depending on their financial needs. Another organisation that has capitalised on the rise in gig work is The Wesbr Foundation.

As opposed to taking on a full operational management team, between 2016 and mid-2018, The Wesbr Foundation, which is a non-profit social entrepreneurship initiative, decided to take on part-time managers who were already established experts in their fields and asked them to dedicate three to five hours a week to foundation work. This was a canny way to get great work from professionals. They have continued to use this model for their project volunteers, who volunteer for specific projects and are assigned specific tasks within the project. Wiza Ngambi, the brainchild of The Wesbr Foundation states, “We create opportunities that allow experts, young professionals, students and school leavers to execute positive change in their communities. Based on open source economics.”

Zambia’s largest online job search platform, Go Zambia Jobs, has also realised that the gig economy is getting bigger and has created a subsidiary site, Go Zambia Gigs. This allows gig workers to create profiles and apply for specific gig work posted to the site. The site also allows individuals to rate each other, in terms of quality of work done, as well as work given. This rating system is a great initiative given certain apprehensions about gig work.

In one of her interviews Michelle Obama said, “There is no such thing as a part time job, only part time pay.” This has been one of the biggest arguments put forward by the critics of gig work. They claim individuals are asked to do jobs that should ordinarily be full time, in half the time for half the pay. This is all while not providing any benefits such as health insurance or compensation in the event of a workplace injury.

Using the farming sector to illustrate, let us assume a gig worker is paid per cob of maize harvested, their aim will be to harvest as many cobs of maize possible in the shortest amount of time in order to earn something sustainable. This challenges the claims of flexible working times and making money at your pace, as the number of gigs required to earn a living wage is high. Moreover, a full-time employee in the same industry will be paid to harvest cobs of maize but additionally they will be paid transport, lunch and housing allowances. Furthermore, they will have access to a pension as well as receive compensation in case of any work place accidents.

So far, Zambia’s employment law has not taken gig work into consideration. For instance, if one’s wages are dependent on the number of gigs one engages in, it’s easy for individuals and organisations to then circumnavigate the minimum wage and claim that it is up to the individual to bridge the wage gap.

It is undeniable is that the gig economy is here to stay. The challenge we face is how to ensure that it works for us as a nation.

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