ILO pilot workshops to equip workers to navigate platform work effectively in Uganda

Online platforms, trade unions and young people took part in a series of pilot workshops raising awareness on the opportunities and challenges workers, including refugees, face when embarking in gig work

News | 31 August 2023
Kampala, Uganda (ILO News) – To harness the potential of an inclusive digital transformation in the world of work for young people and refugees in Uganda, it is crucial to understand the possibilities and limitations of work and livelihoods in the gig economy.

Against this backdrop, a series of pilot workshops on the “Opportunities and Risks in Paid Platform Work: Workers’ Rights and Pathways to Organize Collectively” unfolded during the second part of August 2023, starting in selected refugee settlements and closing in Kampala.

Organized under the umbrella of the ILO PROSPECTS Uganda and the Opportunity Fund project on the Promotion, inclusion and protection of refugees and host communities in the gig economy, the workshops convened a diverse group of stakeholders, including refugees, online workers, unions and community-based organizations advocating for workers’ rights. The objective was to illuminate the intricate realm of currently high in demand labour platform work, champion workers' rights, and delve into the distinctive experiences of refugees in the online gig economy.

“Technology has profoundly transformed the way we work”, said Stephen Opio, ILO’s Chief Technical Advisor in Uganda. He highlighted that in the realm of the gig economy, one essential tool is your smartphone which allows you to work and to request services remotely such as a ride in boda bodas (motorcycle taxies).

“However, alongside these conveniences, we must acknowledge the emergence of challenges. Informality, limited unionization, issues like unclear algorithm management, and barriers to accessing social protection have become pressing concerns in this dynamic work environment. The series of pilot workshop are offering an opportunity to look at the different angles of the gig economy and open dialogue on how to engage productively and safely in gig paid work”, Opio explained.

During the introductory session of the workshop in Kampala (29-31 August 2023), set the stage for a lively exchange of perspectives and aspirations. Participants highlighted the significance of understanding digital labour platforms and shared their reasons for engaging in this discourse. From a humanitarian perspective, Sybille of Nakivale's "Her Dreams Count" emphasized the need to grasp both the risks and opportunities in the digital workspace. Meanwhile, Michelle Hassan from the Job Tech Alliance in Kampala underscored the importance of informed decision-making for supporting young people access work that allows them to progress in the labour market.

The workshop's discussions were driven by a comprehensive understanding of the shifting work landscape, the proliferation of digital labour platforms, and the distinctive hurdles confronting forcibly displaced communities. This was an opportunity to investigate the opportunities and risks linked to online work, especially for refugees; to advocate for workers' rights and facilitate pathways for collective organization within the digital labour sphere; and to nurture collaboration among stakeholders spanning diverse sectors, including unions, NGOs, and policy researchers.

The power of workers’ collective voices emerged as a need to drive change in a hybrid working world

As Kampala's pilot workshop delved into the complexities of digital labour, participants explored pathways to organize collectively, and the importance of unions and advocacy in the gig economy became apparent. “The power of collective voices emerged as a driving force for change”, said Richard Bigirwa, Secretary General of National Organizations of Trade Unions (NOTU). In his contribution to the workshop, he stressed the power of workers organizing to face important challenges in Uganda, especially in the IT sector, where infrastructure issues are still prevalent.

The workshop also served as a platform for addressing digital risks and devising strategies for their assessment and mitigation. It facilitated discussions on existing legal frameworks, identified potential gaps, and explored mechanisms to bridge them, while concurrently addressing infrastructural and social challenges faced by refugees and other marginalized communities.

Mban Kabu, ILO’s Regional Specialist for Africa on Workers’ Education, discussed the immense potential of the gig economy. He underlined, “Trade unions must advocate for gig workers to be recognized as 'workers' and receive rights as workers under the law. This requires change in the legal and regulatory landscape to guarantee gig workers the rights to freedom of association, collective bargaining, social protection, safe and healthy working environment, and social dialogue aimed at achieving decent work and social justice for all."

Empowering young refugees to navigate the online platform economy

The PROSPECTS initiative extended to Nakivale Settlement in Isingiro District and Rhino Camp Settlement in Madi-Okollo and Terego Districts on 21 and 25 August 2023, respectively. These pilot workshops were part of a broader effort to empower young people, including refugees and host communities, to understand and navigate the dynamic landscape of the gig economy mediated by digital labour platforms effectively.

Participants had the opportunity to share their personal stories related to working and generating an income online. The workshop also offered insights on the rights at work and current international practice to improve access and working conditions in the platform economy.

Participants, pilot workshop in Nakivale Settlement
The involvement of Unleashed and Resilience Hope for Trauma Victims, two very dynamic Community Based Organizations with refugee leadership, set the basis for future collaboration with the ILO to roll out upcoming knowledge sharing and workers’ educational materials on the challenges and opportunities brought about by the online gig economy. The pilot workshops also served as a platform to collect valuable feedback on educational materials being prepared by the ILO PROSPECTS programme and to foster discussions around innovative worker organizing methods and success stories.
Participants, pilot workshop in Rhino Camp Settlement

The incontrovertible influence of technology on the world of work brings forth an immense potential for addressing unemployment and its disproportionate impact on marginalized groups, including women, youth, refugees, and individuals with disabilities. In that sense, Uganda’s pilot workshops stand as a foundational step toward forging a more inclusive and equitable digital future for all, including refugees.  

This event was co-organized by the PROSPECTS programme in Uganda and the Opportunity Fund project on the Promotion, inclusion and protection of refugees and host communities in the gig economy, with the generous funding of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.