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The session focused the discussion on aspects of digital skill gaps and requirements in the Global South, especially for women with low-digital skills. It highlighted specific concerns around current models of implementing policies, and showed examples of good practices, focusing on education around future skills and the workforce, and addressing the insufficiently researched conditions of the gig economy.
The focus on the gig economy explored the extent to which it permeates the developing world, pointing towards actual effects versus imagined ones. It is known that the gig economy is by default precarious and insecure, not providing any worker rights, as people hired are treated as independent contractors. Besides the obvious positive side of providing jobs and creating an income people would otherwise not get, Mr Mark Graham (Fairwork Foundation) noted that platform based work shows a lack of accountability with low pay, sometimes below the local minimum wage, explicit discrimination, and no physical protection.
Issues around accessing online work were mentioned by Ms Beatriz Irisarri (Lacnic). She raise concern that actual penetration rates for Africa, for example, tend to be lower than those in UN documents. She mentioned a discrepancy between literature and reality on the topic of gender, due to the fact that in writing, online work provides an opportunity for childcare, as people are forced to be at home. Since so many women in these countries are not online, the possibility of them taking part in the gig economy is diminished.
Concern was raised about how skills for the future are defined, their scale, and how policies are being implemented. While most policy implementations are geared towards improving digital skills, studies show that the most needed type of work in the future is based on non-digital skills, for which there are no government policies. One of the key points raised was a need to reformulate how we look at education. For the most part, we have seen our share of education systems that are not equipped for training people for jobs that do not exist. They do not understand the evolving profile needs.
On the topic of labour rights, the research done by the Fairwork Foundation showed good practices in terms of pressuring platforms into implementing better working conditions. Providing a set of principles, including paying at least a minimum wage, protecting workers’ health and well-being, and not misclassifying, the project gives each platform a score out of 10 and then compares them against each other. This showed to be an efficient incentive for platforms to change the conditions they provide to workers, as they are publicly pressured to compete with each other.
Ms Alejandra Erramuspe (Uruguay’s Agency for the e-Government and Information & Communications Society (AGESIC)) pointed out the importance of the IT industry in actively participating in the training of young people to meet future needs. An example is their project ‘Youth to Code’, focused on young people aged 18 to 30 aiming to expose them to platforms with general support for professional development, focused directly on the needs of businesses. Their recent focus was aimed solely at women, in order to incentivise a larger participation of women. Their practice showed that during the first few months, there was a higher drop-out rate by women than men in the programme. Research showed that this was related to their perception and relation to their male peers, showing that a gender sensitive surrounding is an important step in digital inclusion.
In conclusion, the session underlined a need for addressing not only the digital skill gap, but the need for research, policy, and greater involvement with the private sector. The reconciliation of labour laws also requires stepping out of simplified classifications and rethinking the traditional employer-employee relationship.
By Darija Medić