Not a Fairy Tale: Unicorns and Social Protection of Gig Workers in Columbia

Velez Osorio, Veronica
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In Colombia there has been little social dialogue or democratic debate about how to effectively extend labour and social protections to digital platform gig workers. Rappi Inc. is a digital platform foundedin Bogota, Colombia, in 2015, with the support of Colombian public institutions. Through theplatform, customers can buy consumer goods such as meals, groceries, medicine, and so on. In 2019, Rappi Inc. became one of the most valuable digital technology companies in Latin America with a value of over $1 billion turning into what the venture capital business called a unicorn company. There is no regulatory framework in Colombia that enforces the continued relevance of employment relations in the platform economy. Therefore, the rapid growth of Rappi Inc. has not been accompanied by the fair redistribution of profits, due to gig workers being classified as ‘independent contractors’, which sharpens the asymmetries between capital and labour. Rappi Inc. workers have responded by forming the Movimiento Nacional de Repartidores de Plataformas Digitales (MNRP, National Movement of Digital Platform Workers) and also by recently forming a trade union that operates through an app, Unidapp. These workers are actively disputing the current trajectory of digital work in Colombia. Furthermore, the paper analyses debates about the possibilities of a universal basic income as anti-poverty-focused social protection, in the midst of intensifying calls for one in response to the crisis resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. The government launched the Programa Ingreso Solidario (PIS, Solidarity Income Programme) to address the decrease in work-related incomes of poor households. The discussions on basic income have opened the debate on crucial public agenda issues, such as tax reform, public debt and vertical expansion of social protection, among others social demands.
Future of workers