Platform work: digital slave labour?

The rumblings on the working conditions of those engaged in local digital platform work have been around for some time. Last February one of them, a 28-year-old Nepalese, was involved in a fatal traffic accident in Marsa when on a food delivery trip.

This is not just a local issue. The matter is also on the radar of the European Union which is considering the introduction of an EU wide Directive “on improving the working conditions in platform work”. 

An impact assessment drawn up as an EU Commission staff working document emphasises that some of those working through digital platforms face poor working conditions and inadequate access to social protection. A number of them, says the impact assessment, are falsely classified as self-employed. As a result of the misclassification of their employment status they tend to lose various rights and protections. These include rights relative to working time, minimum wage (including the statutory bonus payable in June and December), paid annual leave, paid sick leave, parental leave and occupational health and safety.

The industrial action by Bolt food couriers last week brought to light the plight of local platform workers. “Almost nobody knows what we must go through just so that they get their food quickly” one of the couriers was quoted as saying.

It is not so well known that the food courier platform operators, in addition to collecting the delivery charges, collect substantial commissions from the food outlets which they serve. At times, I am informed that this may be as high as 30 per cent of the value of the delivery food. It was pointed out to me that this commission charged is at times evident in a discrepancy between the prices quoted online and those displayed at the food outlets themselves!

It has to be underlined that these substantial commissions do not end up in the pockets of the food couriers but in the bank accounts of the platform operators!

Some of the couriers are paid at a miserly rate of €2 per delivery, at times even less. The lucky ones can get as much as €2.50 per delivery or slightly better! This signifies that they must work very long hours to try and earn a very basic income on which to exist. To make matters worse, in those cases where the couriers are “independent” or “falsely” classified as self-employed they end up paying their own expenses. As a consequence, they end up much worse off!

This is twenty first century slave labour. It is in fact digital slave labour!

After the industrial action last week, some catering establishments have voiced their concerns as the action taken by the food courier platform workers has at the end of the day impacted their bottom line too. I do not recall hearing their concern on utilising digital slave labour: they did so without qualms. They had no second thoughts or pangs of conscience.

The catering establishments are not directly responsible for the manner in which digital platform work operates. However, the fact that they make use of it renders them complicit in the slave labour industry being developed to satisfy their bottom lines. They make it possible.

Last week’s industrial action was an eye opener for all, including those who feigned ignorance as to what was going on. Now is the time for all round action. This must also include action on the part of consumers who should not use the services of those who keep encouraging and making use of digital slave labour.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 7 August 2022

Regulating the building industry


Last Wednesday, a White Paper to consolidate and streamline existing legislation relative to the building and construction industry was published for public consultation.

It is being proposed to set up a new authority, a Building and Construction Regulator, to consolidate under its authority the statutory responsibilities currently entrusted to the various scattered entities responsible for the regulation of the building and construction industry at post-permit stage. This, it is suggested, would facilitate the revisiting and consolidation of current building laws and regulations, thus bringing them into line with current technical and legal exigencies.

In particular, the White Paper points towards the need to consolidate four specific entities: the BICC (Building Industry Consultative Council), the BRO (Building Regulation Office), the BRB (Building Regulation Board) and the Masons Board.

The proposal is certainly long overdue and should, if properly implemented through timely enforcement, lead to an improvement in both quality and safety standards throughout the building and construction industry.

The proliferation of boards and other entities throughout the years, even though well intentioned, rendered them almost ineffective. Their consolidation and coordination will hopefully restore them into effective tools through which to ensure that their objectives are implemented and, where necessary, brought in line with present day technological realities.

Updating property legislation, if carried out under the direction of a consolidated authority can also be more focused and fruitful.

The new authority should ensure that the building industry has an informed voice, capable of interacting with the existing regulatory structures such as the Planning Authority. In so doing the newly proposed structure would be in a position to complement the input of other entities such as the Civil Protection Department, the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD), the Department of Environmental Health (DEH) and the Occupational Health and Safety Authority (OHSA).

As inevitably happens whenever such initiatives are taken, there will initially be some overlaps with the responsibilities of other entities. Time and adequate coordination will be required in order that these initial difficulties are overcome, as they will most probably be.

The new authority will be welcomed by the large-scale operators in the building industry, most of whom are more than adequately equipped to deal with an industry that is driven by technology, improved quality and safety standards. It will however initially be considered as intrusive and bureaucratic by the smaller operators. This is, in fact, the area in which the building regulatory framework is currently largely ineffective and, consequently, where the impacts of the resulting consolidation is most needed.

Improvements will not result overnight. They will however, slowly build up once the resources are made available to the newly established authority, enabling it to provide adequate monitoring of building sites that currently cannot be ensured due to the fact that the existing boards are starved of sufficient resources.

I do not think this consultation is in anyway controversial, which may explain why it is  below the media’s radar. But let us not underestimate its importance.


published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 23 September 2018