Linda Alinda-Ikanza wants people to know their rights, particularly workers and employers. She developed the Nkola App to help fellow Ugandans to find out their rights with a few keystrokes. The app helps workers and employers work out maternity leave, overtime rates and notice before resigning or being terminated.
What do lawyers in Uganda make of the app?
They think “It’s horrendous, a bad idea,” replied Ikanza when Justice Hub spoke to her during this year’s Innovating Justice Forum in The Hague.
Ikanza tries to placate lawyers by telling them that Nkola App is “a complement to your service” and not “a competitor.”
Nkola App was definitely a competitor at the 2019 Innovating Justice Awards* organised by The Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HiiL). Our interview with Ikanza is published here as part of our #MyJustice series:
Justice Hub: What’s the Nkola App for?
Nkola App is a tool which can disseminate employment rights information via the short message codes on your phone – the ones usually used for airtime or service provision from the telecom companies.
Justice Hub: Why use the short message code mechanism?
Currently, most of our countries have taken on the telecom technological wave, but the majority of consumers still don’t have smartphones. And most innovations and applications are based on that smartphone technology so that means it locks out the vast majority of low-income earners. They have a phone but they can’t go to the internet and they can’t tap on to information on the internet.
With our code, if you are a worker or an employer and can’t afford a lawyer or the internet and all these other alternatives, you can dial a code and find out where the law stands on some certain basic employment situations. For example, if you are an employer who wants to terminate a worker and you want to know if you owe them leave, overtime or notice – you just follow the code. Same thing if you are a worker: maybe you are pregnant and you want to know how you going to look after your baby. You just go there and you get to know – if I have my baby on this date, then I should get back to work on this date.
Justice Hub: So it’s based on national employment law that applies to everybody? Is it a little bit inflexible because maybe peoples’ individual circumstances are different?
That’s exactly what is special about it. When you dial this code you get asked the unique aspect of your employment that applies to you and then our technology in the background converts that to your unique situation.
Let’s say – for example – if our national law on notice, which is a requirement that somebody tells the employee if they are going to be fired or leave a job, and it depends on how many years you worked. When you dial the code it will ask you how long you have worked and then it will tell you, okay you need to be given two months notice or you need yourself to give one month notice.
Because usually to know that information will be the preserve of a lawyer or somebody that knows what the law provides. We’ve drawn from the aspect of the law that requires that personal information so that an individual can know what applies to them.
Justice Hub: What about privacy for the person who’s putting in all of that information?
Right now when you provide us with queries, we don’t get any extra information about you. The only thing we get is your number, and if you are a woman or a man. We would just see a number that asked us about maternity leave, based on this delivery date and we’ll say: you’ll come back to work on this day.
Justice Hub: How do lawyers feel about this kind of an app?
They say ‘it’s horrendous, a bad idea’. We only charge 37 cents for this response, and the lawyers are “how are we going to remain in employment if you can charge for a service 37 cents”. I say to them, well mobile phones, when they just came, used to be for 1% of the people, but somehow they were able to make it a mass product. This is what we should be doing, because if someone knows their rights and they are being violated, they can then find reason to come to you the lawyer. So I say ‘think about this more as a complement to your service than a competitor’.
Justice Hub: What does justice mean to you? Maybe in relation to your product, people or the system, what does justice look like for you?
Equality, having the same access. Getting rid of the bottlenecks that prevent some people from having the same opportunities. So for workers, it’s their right, for employers it’s value for their money.
HiiL organizes an annual competition to promote justice innovations. The competition drew over 1000 innovators. From these, a longlist of 400 was compiled, out of which a final 12 were invited to pitch their solution for an urgent access to justice issue at the 9th Innovating Justice Forum at the Peace Palace in The Hague, the Netherlands.