It’s no secret that gig workers have a tough time getting any benefits at all, thanks to the transient nature and the often low pay of the jobs they do. But amid increasing efforts to correct that situation, a new app is offering some help.
Wired reports that the portal benefits app, called Alia, has been undergoing testing by Fair Care Labs, which is the innovation arm of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, an organization that advocates for and organizes domestic workers.
According to Wired, Alia, developed with the help of a grant from Google.org, is at present designed for use by house cleaners, who usually work for multiple clients. The app pools voluntary contributions from those clients, usually $5 per cleaning and sometimes more. Cleaners are then able to draw on their own pool of funds to redeem different benefits.
Through a partnership with insurer Colonial Life, Fair Care Labs provides workers with the opportunity to have life insurance, disability insurance and accident and critical illness insurance. Workers can also redeem paid time off, at $120 per day.
Sam Witherbee, lead on the project, spoke with “dozens” of cleaners, both independent workers and those who work through platforms, to determine the differences benefits, such as paid time off, make to their lives. He also consulted those who hire those workers, who were mostly willing to contribute to benefits but generally have no idea how to do so. The app takes care of the “how.”
Palak Shah, the founding director of Fair Care Labs and social innovations director at NDWA, told Wired, “If you make it easy [for them to contribute], they’ll jump on it.”
Wired also notes the potential for the app’s use extends beyond domestic work and “could be used by any worker who receives income from multiple sources and does not have a primary employer that offers benefits.”
Currently, there’s no health insurance option beyond critical illness coverage, but NDWA hopes to add it. And while some employers are willing to contribute voluntarily, they don’t have to. “A mandatory system would be better,” Libby Reder, a fellow for the Aspen Institute’s Future of Work Initiative, is quoted saying, adding that requiring contributions would create “a lot more certainty and sustainability.”
A federal law to require contributions isn’t likely under the current Republican Congress, however, even though various efforts around the country are gaining more attention and support. Still, according to Shah, “basically anyone working in different arrangements from the traditional 9-to-5 single employer” could benefit from such a requirement.
And at least the fact that Alia exists “makes it more difficult for people to say, ‘Ah, well, we just can’t figure out how to do it,’” Elaine Waxman, a senior fellow in the Income and Benefits Policy Center at the Urban Institute, told Wired.