Protect the rights of online workers, lobby groups tell government


A woman on a video call with a laptop and headphones while working from home. [Getty Images]

Lobby groups have raised concerns over what they described as a failure by the government to protect the rights of Kenyans working on digital platforms.

They argued that Kenyans, using different applications and toiling locally, are paid a small amount of money as middlemen and app owners get the lion’s share.

Dubbed ‘Project Ether’, the group comprises human rights organisations, including the Kenya Human Rights Commission, a social justice working group, youth agenda, Siasa Place and the Kariobangi justice centre.

The human rights organisations urged the government to avert the digital job loss that is taking a toll on online workers amid closure and layoffs by digital companies.

In a joint statement, they argue that such platforms lack the proper regulatory frameworks to ensure these transitions do no harm to the rights of parties involved.

“We are aware of several legal disputes lodged in the Kenyan courts in the past few months, including one in which more than 180 content creators have sued the two companies for unlawful and unfair,” the groups said.

Siasa Place Executive Director Nerima Wako faulted the State for issuing authorisation to digital firms, oblivious of the dangers Kenyans are exposed to in the hands of companies operating without meeting labour standards. “We are deeply concerned with senior government officials’ appearances with, patronising of, and seemingly subtle endorsement of, and solidarity with foreign companies that violate worker’s rights and lawful court orders,” said Ms Wako.

“We also note that the rapid transformations in the labour marketplace are happening in a context that lacks the proper regulatory frameworks and/or weak enforcement mechanisms to ensure these transitions do no harm to the rights of parties involved,” she added.

She spoke on Friday during a joint press briefing at Siasa Place, Nairobi.

The group said the recent mass termination of hundreds of Facebook workers in Kenya and, the closure of Remotasks and Jumia food delivery service portrays the vulnerability of workers in this emerging realm of work.

“Questions remain about how to ensure a safe, empowering and dignifying work environment for digital platform workers including fair compensation and equal pay for equal work,” they said.

This comes a week after a digital firm, Remotask closed down accounts of local users, a move, which the rights defenders said has rendered many young people jobless. “We are reaching out with an important announcement regarding Remotask operations in your location. We are discontinuing operations in your current location effective March 8, 2024,” reads the mail sent to users.

Public attention has since been drawn to the closure, raising questions of the frameworks of operations between the companies and the State even as the president continues to champion digital jobs in the wake of a fast-growing digital world.

The State is yet to comment on the withdrawal of services by Remotask.

“The sudden closure highlights the vulnerability of workers in this emerging realm of work, and especially those who depend primarily on such digital platforms work for their livelihood,” said Damaris Onyancha of Kenya Human Rights Commission.

Director Youth Agenda, Victor Nyongesa, called on state agencies tasked with ensuring compliance and parliament to investigate illegal operations of the foreign-owned online businesses in the country.