Workplace rights remain a top issue across many regions of the world where laws leave many unprotected, employer and employee.
In Nigeria, Farmworkerz App recognised the vulnerability of farmers and took action to secure their rights. The first digital platform of its kind in the country seeks to connect vetted farm-hands to potential farms for hiring, ensuring that neither side is a victim of wrongdoing. Through the app, workers ensure they receive their wages promptly, in addition to benefits such as food and other welfare. The app facilitates a mutual work relationship between farmers and workers which translates to continuous job offers for the workers and reliable labour for farmers.
As many as 70% of farmers fall victim to local agents who abscond with money or end up sending them poor quality or unreliable workers. The vetting process ensures that good farm workers get good employees and vice versa, which for the worker means secure work and for the farm, increased productivity and profitability. Last year, the company won the 2018 Innovating Justice Challenge by the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HiiL).
In Uganda, Nkola App has been devised to resolve or prevent disputes between employers and employees, providing users with information about their rights. Nkola is a Luganda word which can be translated as "I work" or "Am working". Used in its local context, the phrase inspires a culture of hard work and personal sacrifice. Linda Alinda-Ikanza, its founder, wanted access to information for all, and developed the app to help fellow Ugandans know their rights with a few keystrokes. The app helps workers and employers work out sick or maternity leave entitlements and required notice periods.
At just 37 cents a message, it disseminates employment rights information via short message codes on a phone – the ones usually used for airtime or service provision from the telecom companies. Ikanza chose this because much of the population still do not have smart phones, excluding many of the low income workers who critically need access to this information. Ikanza has already faced fury from lawyers who fear their services - too expensive for most - are being overridden.
Information sharing app Viamo, which now has a presence in over 20 countries in Africa and Asia, makes legal information available toll-free on demand in pre-recorded and text messages. It helps drive public awareness about employment rights, especially supporting those in remote and rural areas.
The initiative was launched as VOTO Mobile in 2012 by a handful of Ghanaian and Canadian engineers in Kumasi on the campus of KNUST (Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology). While there had been a huge pick-up of mobile phones, few organisations were using them to communicate to the users. The founders decided to create an SMS channel to spread information but could not truly reach the rural populations, especially rural women. Instead, they decided to add a voice (IVR, Interactive Voice Response) channel, which proved much more effective, allowing those unable to read, to still access information in their local dialect. As the company expanded, it has been able to share information across topics from employment law to health issues, gender-based violence to market prices for farmers to access, in an array of local dialects, reaching over 100,000 people a day.
From both sides, employer to employee, there are still huge numbers of people without access to often basic information. Employee rights are not being upheld when employers have little understanding of their obligations and employees are not well informed enough to demand what’s owed to them. Both sides are vulnerable to corruption and cheating but with some simple technological solutions, change is possible. Ensuring information is available in languages people can understand is key to open up knowledge to the illiterate, while making that information available on platforms other than smart phones must continue while the majority of these populations still have no access.
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