Social Disparities Mirror in Gig Work: SC/ST Drivers and Delivery Persons Have to Work for Over 14 Hours

Conducted by the Indian Federation of App-based Transport Workers and the People’s Association in Grassroots Action and Movements at eight different locations, the study involved 5,028 delivery persons and 5,302 taxi drivers.
Lack of social security benefits and financial protections are prime concerns of the gig workers.
Lack of social security benefits and financial protections are prime concerns of the gig workers. Pic Courtesy-The Wire

New Delhi: About 83% of app-based taxi drivers work over 10 hours a day, and nearly a third work more than 14 hours. Compared to 60% of drivers belonging to the Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST), only 16% in the unreserved category work longer than 14 hours, revealed a study conducted on over 10,000 Indian gig workers.

Carried out at eight different locations by the Indian Federation of App-based Transport Workers and the People’s Association in Grassroots Action and Movements, the survey involved 5,028 delivery persons and 5,302 taxi drivers to ascertain if there is any disparity in gig work.

Income Disparities Exacerbating Social Inequalities 

Financial hardship was one among other concerning patterns the research found out. More than 43% of participants make less than Rs 500 per day or Rs 15,000 per month, excluding all expenses. 

While 78% of app-based delivery workers work more than 10 hours a day, yet over 34% make less than Rs 10,000 per month.

“These income disparities further exacerbate the already existing social inequalities and perpetuate cycles of poverty and distress within these communities,” English daily The Hindu has quoted the research as stating, highlighting the differences among workers from different castes.

The study found that lengthy work hours cause drivers to be physically weary and put them at higher risk of being involved in traffic accidents. This is compounded by the ‘10-minute delivery at the doorstep’ strategy of several e-commerce sites. According to the research, 86% of delivery personnel thought that these rules were “completely unacceptable”. 

Fervently supporting increased pay and benefits for these app-based workers, the report revealed 76% of delivery workers and nearly 72% of taxi drivers struggle to make ends meet, with 68% of the latter reporting higher costs than income.

Lack of social security benefits and financial protections are prime concerns of the gig workers.
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‘Arbitrary’ Deductions in Commission Rate

More than 80% of app-based taxi drivers and 73% of delivery workers, as per the survey, said they were unhappy with their fares and rates respectively. Contrary to the publicly declared figure of 20%, respondents believe that companies withdraw between 31-40% of the commission rate every ride. Over 68% of respondents perceive these deductions to be “arbitrary”, “unjust” and “unexplained”.

In addition to their poor salary, many employees found it difficult to take time off: 41% of drivers and 48% of delivery workers could not take even one day off in a workweek. 

The report also addressed the problem of deactivating IDs and improper customer behavior.

“A startling 83% of drivers said that the problem of ID blocking negatively impacts them, and 47% said that it greatly affects them. This number is significantly higher — 87% — in the case of delivery workers,” said the report.

The study found that 68% of delivery workers and a sizable majority of drivers (72%) are negatively impacted by the actions of their customers.

Even if the employees are given titles like captain, CEO or delivery partner, these attempts at inclusivity are purely symbolic. Scattered and tardy payments hardly hint at the misery of the freelance worker. 

Even by some modest projections, the business is predicted to develop at a rate of 200% over the next five years. However, there are reports of arbitrary ID bans, changes in the commission received and mysterious and rare delivery orders. Such concerns have been brought to light by recent protests by gig workers over unfair labor conditions at Urban Company and Blinkit.

A World Bank estimate puts the “gig economy” at up to 12% of the global labor market, which is higher than the previous estimate, and has potential benefits for young people and women in developing nations. The market for online gig labor is expanding quickly, yet there are still no social safeguards in place for these workers.

If one were to place the gig economy-anchored app-based delivery workers around urban India, they would undoubtedly come across workers wearing vivid red or orange shirts who are hurrying past traffic with a greater sense of urgency. Even though these shirts frequently feature the logos of popular firms like Zomato or Swiggy, the person who is wearing it practically fades into the background.

Legal Ambiguity

Companies and platforms do not contribute to the social security of gig workers because their status does not fall under the legal definition of an employee. The majority of individuals in low-income nations, according to a World Bank report, work outside the scope of labor laws and do not have access to social insurance or benefits. 

Furthermore, women are paid only 68% of men’s salary, indicating that there is still a sizable pay discrepancy.

When there is an ambiguous employee-employer connection at work, the rights of gig workers become more invisible. Due to the gig worker’s legal status as an independent contractor rather than an employee, platforms and companies are exempt from paying the worker’s social security taxes.

They are unable to raise their demands because of the legal framework’s acknowledgment of gig workers. This acknowledgment is based on categories that were created earlier before the term “gig work” was coined.

Supreme Court rulings also identify certain classification tests that aid in establishing the worker’s status. However, these decisions have been based on strict definitions of what constitutes an employee, failing to acknowledge the gig worker’s status.

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