Gig workers threaten large protest over better pay, benefits
Gig workers in India have threatened large protests over their demands for better pay and benefits. Their demands are not only meant for app companies that provide them with work, but also for the government. If ignored, they threatened to act politically as a voting block and reflect their discontent in the upcoming elections in multiple states.
Why does it matter?
- India reportedly has a total of 1.5 crore gig workers who work for various apps either as drivers, delivery boys, or other service providers.
- These gig workers are becoming more vocal about their poor pay and hostile working conditions.
- India's gig economy reportedly has the potential to generate 90 million jobs over the long term, with total transactions rising to over $250 billion.
'We can mobilize thousands in one call'
"In one call, we can mobilize thousands of drivers and delivery boys to come out to the streets," said Telangana Gig and Platform Workers Union President Shaik Salauddin told Bloomberg. If their demands continued to be ignored, it will "surely" reflect in polls, he added.
What are their demands?
The key demand of gig workers is the implementation of labor reforms approved in 2020. The reforms would make app-based workers eligible for social security benefits, including retirement pensions and access to healthcare. Another demand is for improved working conditions. "We work in unhygienic conditions...that's causing a lot of health issues," said Rinku Sharma of the Indian Federation of App-Based Transport Workers.
Gig workers have also moved Supreme Court
Meanwhile, gig workers have also approached the Supreme Court, seeking direction to implement the social security provision of the labor reforms. On December 13, the SC announced it would hear the case in January.
What's the harm in implementing labor reforms?
Despite Parliament's approval, the Narendra Modi-led Centre has been slow in implementing labor reforms. With several state assembly polls are around the corner, the ruling BJP is reportedly treading cautiously as it fears some provisions in the legislation may spark popular backlash. One such provision makes it easier for companies to fire workers. This might risk a repeat of the recent showdown with farmers.
Streets to social media: How gig workers protested!
In October, beauticians on Urban Company—an app that offers various at-home services—took to social media and the streets to protest. They complained against the company's high commission rates and late-night shifts that endanger women. In July, food delivery workers staged a social media campaign highlighting their long hours and low pay when Zomato offered an initial public offering.
Pandemic highlighted gig workers' contribution: Expert
Notably, gig workers across the world are raising similar demands. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the contribution of these gig workers with the growing demand for food delivery, said Nalini Gulati, an economist at International Growth Centre. It also shifted the focus to the needs of these gig workers and the vulnerabilities due to their working conditions.
Can gig workers become a formidable force?
While gig workers have the potential to become a formidable force, experts pointed out the lack of organization among them. "In the lack of an umbrella organization that binds them together, they are unlikely to become a traditional vote bank," IIM Bengaluru Professor R Srinivasan said. However, Salauddin—the union leader—maintained they would show their strength in numbers when "a situation presents itself."