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Is the Fairwork ratings on gig workers' condition a wake-up call?

Gig economy made itself known during the pandemic. The recent Fairwork ratings highlighted how well or poorly these workers of unorganised sectors were being treated by companies. A report

gig economy | employees in unorganised sector | Internet economy

Harshit Rakheja  |  New Delhi 

Ola, Uber, Karnataka, drivers
Drivers working for taxi aggregators


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  • The ubiquitous foot-soldiers of India’s thriving are discontented. We’re talking about your Ola/ Uber cab drivers and Swiggy/ Zomato delivery partners. Some of them are now tasked with delivering your bread and milk in just 10 minutes! But as a recent report by the Fairwork Foundation, in collaboration with the Oxford Internet Institute has found the earnings of these app-based platform workers or gig workers in India have declined over the last two years. That’s owing to the withering of incentives offered by and a reduction in take-home earnings due to a surge in out-of-pocket expenses. The Fairwork India Ratings 2021: Labour Standards in the Platform Economy, now in its third year of publication, serves as an indictment of the work conditions for this growing class of unorganised workers. This year, the report ranks 11 Indian startups which engage contract gig workers. It scores them out of 10, based on their performance against five principles, namely: Fair Pay, Fair Conditions, Fair Contracts, Fair Management and Fair Representation. Notably, Ola’s score has come down from 2/10 in 2020 to zero in 2021. This is, at a time, when it has become notoriously difficult to get a cab driver to accept your ride request on Ola platform. Uber has also slipped from one to zero. And Urban Company, which topped the list in 2020 with a stellar score of 8/10, has slipped three-points to five. We reached out to Ola, Uber and Urban Company to understand the reasons behind the fall in their scores, but didn’t receive any responses. So, we asked the lead investigator for Fairwork in India, Professor Balaji Parthasarathy. The decline in Urban Company’s score has coincided with ongoing protests by its beauticians. The first protest was in October last year, as beauticians complained against Urban Company’s commissions of up to 30%-35% per job. Urban Company responded with some concessions, one of them being reducing its highest commission for beauty service professionals to 25% from 30%. However, last month, Urban Company’s beauticians again held a protest outside the company’s Gurugram office.

    Their complain was about new work policies, which would have beauticians pay a subscription fee upfront to get ‘gigs’ through Urban Company’s portal. Beauticians would also have to take a minimum number of jobs each month, thus reducing their gig work flexibility. This time, Urban Company responded to the protest by suing the protesting beauticians. This remains the first such instance of an Indian gig company suing its own workers. At the heart of the growing discontent with gig work is the fact that this new model of work hasn’t lived up to its core promises. Startups in the ride-hailing and food delivery sectors attracted their first bunch of gig workers with the promises of good pay and work flexibility. By paying these workers per task or ‘gig’, did away with the burden of having to provide them with social security and other standard employee benefits. However, wages have reduced over time, and gig work has become a permanent gig for Ola/Uber cab drivers and Swiggy/ Zomato delivery partners. Several testimonies in the Fairwork reports over the last three years highlight how most workers have to work 12-16 hours to make ends meet. And yet, they enjoy little in terms of social security that any employee would get. A PIL in the Supreme Court by the Indian Federation of App-Based Transport Workers (IFAT) seeks the classification of gig and platform workers as ‘unorganised workers’ under the Unorganised Workers Act, 2008. This would entitle them to benefits such as provident fund, health and maternity benefits and old age protection. This, even as the Centre has come up with the Code on Social Security which recognises gig and platform workers. A counter-view to the criticism of gig work conditions in the Indian platform economy, is that the ecommerce sector is yet to mature. To expect this nascent space to provide better pay and all kinds of insurance to unskilled gig workers, who run in lakhs per company, is a bit too much.

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    First Published: Mon, January 10 2022. 08:30 IST