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

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

How lead petitioner was rendered homeless when GM mustard matter came up in SC

By Rosamma Thomas*  On January 5, 2023, the Supreme Court stayed a December 20, 2022 direction of the Uttarakhand High Court to the Indian Railways and the district administration of Haldwani to use paramilitary forces to evict thousands of poor families occupying land that belonged to the railways.  Justice AS Oka remarked that it was not right to order the bringing in of paramilitary forces. The SC held that even those who had no rights, but were living there for years, needed to be rehabilitated. On December 21, 2022, just as she was getting ready to celebrate Christmas, researcher Aruna Rodrigues was abruptly evicted from her home in Mhow Cantonment, Madhya Pradesh – no eviction notice was served, and nearly 30 Indian Army soldiers bearing arms were part of the eviction process. What is noteworthy in this case is that the records establishing possession of the house date back to 1892 – the title deed with the name of Dr VP Cardoza, Rodrigues’ great grandfather, is dated November 14

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Savarkar 'criminally betrayed' Netaji and his INA by siding with the British rulers

By Shamsul Islam* RSS-BJP rulers of India have been trying to show off as great fans of Netaji. But Indians must know what role ideological parents of today's RSS/BJP played against Netaji and Indian National Army (INA). The Hindu Mahasabha and RSS which always had prominent lawyers on their rolls made no attempt to defend the INA accused at Red Fort trials.

Tax buoyancy claims when less than 4% Indian dollar millionaires pay income tax

By Prasanna Mohanty  In FY18, the last year for which disaggregated income tax data is available, only 29,002 ITRs declared income above Rs 5 crore, while Credit Suisse said India had 7.25 lakh dollar millionaires (the wealth equivalent of Rs 8 crore and above) that year. Often enough, the Centre claims that demonetization in 2016 raised tax collections, improved tax efficiency, and expanded the tax base. Now RBI Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) member Ashima Goyal has also joined their ranks, attributing the “claims” of rising tax collections in the current fiscal year to “tax buoyancy” brought by the demonetisation . Do such claims have any basis in official records? The answer is unequivocal. The budget documents show the tax-to-GDP ratio (direct plus indirect tax) increased from 10.6% in FY16 (pre-demonetization) to 11.2% in FY17, remained there in FY18 (demonetization and GST fiscals), and then fell to 9.9% in FY20. In FY22, it improved to 10.8% and is estimated to drop to 10.7% in

Gandhian unease at Mahadev Desai book launch: Sabarmati Ashram may lose free space

By Rajiv Shah  A simmering apprehension has gripped the Gandhians who continue to be trustees of the Sabarmati Ashram: the “limited freedom” to express one’s views under the Modi dispensation still available at the place which Mahatma Gandhi made his home from 1917 to 1930 may soon be taken away. Also known as Harijan Ashram, a meeting held for introducing yet-to-be-released book, “Mahadev Desai: Mahatma Gandhi's Frontline Reporter”, saw speaker and after speaker point towards “narrowing space” in Gujarat for Gandhians (as also others) to express themselves. Penned by veteran journalist Nachiketa Desai, grandson of Mahadev Desai, while the book was planned to be released on January 1 and the meeting saw several prominent personalities, including actor-director Nandita Das, her scholar-mother Varsha Das, British House of Lords member Bhikhu Parekh, among others, speak glowingly about the effort put in for bringing out the book, exchanges between speakers suggested it should be rele

Civil rights leaders allege corporate loot of resources, suppression of democratic rights

By Our Representative  Civil rights activists have alleged, quoting top intelligence officers as also multiple international forensic reports, that recent developments with regard to the Bhima Koregaon and the Citizenship Amendment Act-National Register of Citizens (CAA-NRC) cases suggest, there was "no connection between the Elgaar Parishad event and the Bhima Koregaon violence." Activists of the Campaign Against State Repression (CASR) told a media event at the HKS Surjeet Bhawan, New Delhi, that, despite this, several political prisoners continue to be behind bars on being accused under the anti-terror the draconian Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Addressed by family members of the political prisoners, academics, as well as social activists, it was highlighted how cases were sought to be fabricated against progressive individuals, democratic activists and intellectuals, who spoke out against "corporate loot of Indian resources, suppression of basic democratic

Kerala natural rubber producers 'squeezed', attend to their plight: Govt of India told

By Rosamma Thomas   Babu Joseph, general secretary of the National Federation of Rubber Producers Societies (NFRPS) at a recent discussion at Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottayam, explained that it is high time the Union government paid greater heed to the troubles plaguing the rubber production sector in India – rubber is a strategic product, important for the military establishment and for industry, since natural rubber is still used in the manufacture of tyres for large vehicles and aeroplanes. Synthetic rubber is now quite widespread, but styrene, which is used in making synthetic rubber and plastics, and also butadiene, another major constituent of synthetic rubber, are both hazardous. Prolonged exposure to these even in recycled rubber can cause neurological damage. Kerala produces the bulk of India’s natural rubber. In 2019-20, Kerala’s share in the national production of rubber was over 74%. Over 20% of the gross cropped area in the state is under rubber cultivation, with total

Cyrus Mistry, PM Modi’s brother: What do these accidents have in common? Merc!

By Rosamma Thomas*  In September 2022, in an accident at Palghar near Mumbai, Cyrus Mistry, former chairman of the Tata Group, died in a road accident . On December 28, 2022, a road accident in Mysore left one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s brothers injured. What is common in these accidents? The car that crashed into the divider on the road, in both these cases, was manufactured by “prestigious” German manufacturer Mercedes Benz. One former dealer of Mercedes Benz cars in India has been raising issues of the threat to the lives of those riding these cars for many years now. Cama Motors, among the oldest dealers of foreign cars, having started business in pre-independence India, noted over 10 years ago that Mercedes Benz was indulging in corrupt practices . The cars are currently priced between Rs 41 lakh and Rs 2.92 crore in India; few people realize that the pride of owning a Merc comes at considerable risk to life. Cama Motors carefully documented several of the flaws on a websi

Bangladesh 'rights violations': US softens stance, fears increased clout of China, India

By Tilottama Rani Charulata*  In December 2021, in addition to the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB), the United States imposed sanctions on seven former and current officers of the force, alleging serious human rights violations. Benazir Ahmed and former RAB-7 commander Miftah Uddin Ahmed were banned from entering the US. RAB as an institution was also canceled the support it was getting from the US and its allies. At the same time, those under the ban have been notified of confiscation of assets held abroad. The anti-crime and anti-terrorism unit of the Bangladesh Police, RAB is the elite force consisting of members of the Bangladesh Army, Bangladesh Police, Bangladesh Navy, Bangladesh Air Force, Border Guard Bangladesh, Bangladesh Civil Service and Bangladesh Ansar, and has been criticized by rights groups for its use of extrajudicial killings and is accused of forced disappearances. The government of Bangladesh has been insisting about lifting the ban on RAB, but the US had till recen