Skip to main content

Self-employed? 'Dead-end' for India's 15 million gig workers amidst lockdown

By Shashi Kant Tripathi*
In the fight against the novel coronavirus, there has been much hullabaloo over the mayhem caused to the economy -- both to the formal and informal sector. But one section of workers is ignored in this analysis. Before the lockdowns were imposed, cars with yellow number plates and motorcycles with huge food boxes were a common site in the streets of metro cities that now lie empty and abandoned. In economic parlance, the people involved with such activities are called gig workers.
Traditionally, types of work can be divided in the organised and the unorganised sector. Organised/ formal sector incorporates both public undertakings and private firms. Unorganised/ informal sector is primarily handled by private companies that offer little or no social and economic security.
As far as gig economy is concerned, there is no social or economic security even in the eyes of the law. The nature of gig economy is different from traditional or informal work in terms of salaries, contract, working hours and interaction to main employers. In that sense, the definition of gig economy is not well developed.
Gig workers are non-traditional, non-standardised workers who can be generally seen working in an app based job that is managed on a digital platform. The salary of these workers are usually dependent on their daily performances and their working hours, that are usually flexible and are determined by the workers themselves on the basis on their own capacity.
Capitalism is forever evolving and changing in terms of the relationship between labour and capital. After the technological revolution, work has been mediated by digital mode. In traditional forms of informal employment, capitalists exploit the labour of the workers. Here in the gig economy, capitalists exploit both the labour and whatever small part of wealth (taxi, bikes etc.) they own to extract profits.
Some examples can be seen as those people working for food delivering apps like Zomato or Swiggy and transport related apps like Uber and Ola and sites like Amazon and Flipkart, etc. Most workers here own the vehicles that they use for the job. In this vein, the gig workers are in so-called “self-employed” status. Most times, the apps factor in proximity with consumers and algorithms determine the job of the workers.
In cases of Ola and Uber, almost all cars are owned by the drivers themselves, while the companies provide them only with a platform to connect to customers. The companies get their commission per ride with no cost accrued on maintenance of the vehicles while the drivers desperately try to complete their daily goals and to break even with the cost of fuel and upkeep.
The multinational companies that employ these workers take no responsibility because there is no legislation to hold them accountable
Issues like breakdown and damage to the vehicles, accidents, consumer wrath are problems faced solely by the drivers. Same is also true for delivery by food joints and restaurants. Such working condition renders the workers more vulnerable.
The uncertainties for gig workers are always on a rise since the labour pool is continuously rising, the competition is consistently increasing and the decision making rests with the owner companies. Although algorithms and proximity are cited as the determining factors for the job, more often than not, it works against the workers.
According to Teamlease, till 2018, total estimated gig workers in India were 15 million. This shows a huge growth from 2016, when they were 8.5 million, which shows a doubling in their numbers in a matter of two years. These workers are primarily located in metro cities like, Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru and Chennai. Several reports estimated that, in coming future, more workers will be part of the gig economy.
Jamie Woodcock in his book “The Gig Economy: A Critical Introduction” (2020), aptly stated: 
“The gig economy is not just a synonym for algorithmic wizardry, large datasets and cutting edge technologies. Whenever we think (or indeed research or write) about work, it is important to remember that work necessarily involves workers. This means actual people with complex lives, working in relationships with each others."
While there is attention to the losses suffered by companies, restaurants and online delivery platforms, the transport related gig workers are jobless without any social security. The multinational companies that employ these workers take no responsibility because there is no legislation to hold them accountable. The latest Code on Wages, 2019 (which replaced four labour related laws) ignored the changing nature of work and employment in the urban areas. Studies show that the gig workers are facing the “falling piece-rate for deliveries.”
While most of the gig workers were already vulnerable, this lockdown is a dead end for gig workers if their issues are not taken up immediately. All the major cities that thrive on the services of the gig workers are still in lockdown. There is an urgent need of a body of laws and rights that applies to this group in particular. And this should first start from recognition of their existence and their work.
When almost all gig workers are unemployed, this is the best time to regulate the companies that employ these workers. In Dickensian language, it is the best of time and it is the season of light to gig workers to form a union and demand from the government that app based multinational companies must be regulated as per the labour law where there will be minimum wages, social and economic securities. Also, the government should amend the Code on Wages and broaden the definition of the worker.
For immediate relief, the government must write off their loans of gig workers and intervene to ensure the minimum income of the workers. If the government fails to control the gig companies, the condition of the workers will become more vulnerable. This lockdown is a tocsin for the gig workers to avoid a future post lockdown catastrophe.
---
*Research scholar at the Jawaharlal Nehru University

Comments

TRENDING

What's Bill Gates up to? Have 'irregularities' found in funding HPV vaccine trials faded?

By Colin Gonsalves*  After having read the 72nd report of the Department Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on alleged irregularities in the conduct of studies using HPV vaccines by PATH in India, it was startling to see Bill Gates bobbing his head up and down and smiling ingratiatingly on prime time television while the Prime Minister lectured him in Hindi on his plans for the country. 

Muted profit margins, moderate increase in costs and sales: IIM-A survey of 1000 cos

By Our Representative  The Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad’s (IIM-A's) latest Business Inflation Expectations Survey (BIES) has said that the cost perceptions data obtained from India’s business executives suggests that there is “mild increase in cost pressures”.

Magnetic, stunning, Protima Bedi 'exposed' malice of sexual repression in society

By Harsh Thakor*  Protima Bedi was born to a baniya businessman and a Bengali mother as Protima Gupta in Delhi in 1949. Her father was a small-time trader, who was thrown out of his family for marrying a dark Bengali women. The theme of her early life was to rebel against traditional bondage. It was extraordinary how Protima underwent a metamorphosis from a conventional convent-educated girl into a freak. On October 12th was her 75th birthday; earlier this year, on August 18th it was her 25th death anniversary.

Govt putting India's professionals, skilled, unskilled labour 'at mercy of' big business

By Thomas Franco, Dinesh Abrol*  As it is impossible to refute the report of the International Labour Organisation, Chief Economic Advisor Anantha Nageswaran recently said that the government cannot solve all social, economic problems like unemployment and social security. He blamed the youth for not acquiring enough skills to get employment. Then can’t the people ask, ‘Why do we have a government? Is it not the government’s responsibility to provide adequate employment to its citizens?’

A Hindu alternative to Valentine's Day? 'Shiv-Parvati was first love marriage in Universe'

By Rajiv Shah*   The other day, I was searching on Google a quote on Maha Shivratri which I wanted to send to someone, a confirmed Shiv Bhakt, quite close to me -- with an underlying message to act positively instead of being negative. On top of the search, I chanced upon an article in, imagine!, a Nashik Corporation site which offered me something very unusual. 

IMA vs Ramdev: Why what's good or bad for goose should be good or bad for gander

By Dr Amitav Banerjee, MD* Baba Ramdev and his associate Balkrishna faced the wrath of the Supreme Court for their propaganda about their Ayurvedic products and belittling mainstream medicine. Baba Ramdev had to apologize in court. His apology was not accepted and he may face the contempt of court with harsher punishment. The Supreme Court acted on a public interest litigation (PIL) moved by the Indian Medical Association (IMA).

'Flawed' argument: Gandhi had minimal role, naval mutinies alone led to Independence

Counterview Desk Reacting to a Counterview  story , "Rewiring history? Bose, not Gandhi, was real Father of Nation: British PM Attlee 'cited'" (January 26, 2016), an avid reader has forwarded  reaction  in the form of a  link , which carries the article "Did Atlee say Gandhi had minimal role in Independence? #FactCheck", published in the site satyagrahis.in. The satyagraha.in article seeks to debunk the view, reported in the Counterview story, taken by retired army officer GD Bakshi in his book, “Bose: An Indian Samurai”, which claims that Gandhiji had a minimal role to play in India's freedom struggle, and that it was Netaji who played the crucial role. We reproduce the satyagraha.in article here. Text: Nowadays it is said by many MK Gandhi critics that Clement Atlee made a statement in which he said Gandhi has ‘minimal’ role in India's independence and gave credit to naval mutinies and with this statement, they concluded the whole freedom struggle.

Youth as game changers in Lok Sabha polls? Young voter registration 'is so very low'

By Dr Mansee Bal Bhargava*  Young voters will be the game changers in 2024. Do they realise this? Does it matter to them? If it does, what they should/must vote for? India’s population of nearly 1.3 billion has about one-fifth 19.1% as youth. With 66% of its population (808 million) below the age of 35, India has the world's largest youth population. Among them, less than 40% of those who turned 18 or 19 have registered themselves for 2024 election. According to the Election Commission of India (ECI), just above 1.8 crore new voters (18-and 19-year-olds) are on the electoral rolls/registration out of the total projected 4.9 crore new voters in this age group.

Indians witnessing 'regression to Hindutva politics' under Modi ahead of elections

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak*  The forthcoming general election in India, scheduled from April 19, 2024, to June 1, 2024, to elect the 543 members of the 18th Lok Sabha and the new Government of India, carries immense significance for the preservation of India's identity as a liberal, secular, and constitutional democracy.

An equine landmark, Cheltenham Gold Cup centenary 'epitomized' heights unparalleled

By Harsh Thakor*  The Cheltenham Gold Cup  is the most prestigious jumping race in the British Isles Steeplechasing calendar and the Cheltenham festival, a cynosure of every English and Irish racegoer. Few sporting events match or surpass the sheer intensity, competitiveness and joy that radiates its legacy. Few moments are more pulsating than witnessing a Gold Cup or a Cheltenham festival. In addition to that the race is run amidst the background of an evergreen English countryside, encircled by hills and pastures, giving a sensation of a paradise or heavenly location.