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The Imperfect Solution

Updated: Mar 27, 2022

Big changes can not be subtle, they are rough, even to the extent of being painful sometimes. But that doesn't mean we don't need those changes.

For a country like India where unemployment is a common phenomenon, gig economy looks like the golden chance for a better and stable future no one wants to miss. With a large workforce with limited or no skill, something like driving a vehicle all day for a salary cheque is a no-brainer. Flexible work hours with good potential to earn are the added advantages.

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE.

Don't get me wrong, the gig economy is the next big thing, or maybe the next big thing that has already arrived. Take, for example, The International Labor Organization counted 489 active ride-hailing and delivery platforms worldwide in 2020, ten times the number that existed in 2010.

Some researches suggest as much as 10% of global work force is engaged in some kind of gig work. As for India, gigs can generate as much as 9 Cr jobs, which is a huge number by any estimate.

So where is the problem?

To start with, the working conditions of these gig workers are suboptimal. The flexibility to do the work which attracts most of them slowly becomes a compulsion with the change in company policies and incentive structure.

Take for an example, Sumit Kumar, a delivery executive with a listed food delivery company gets ₹ 25 per delivery, and if he is able to complete 12 deliveries in the day he gets an additional ₹ 200. However, the toll it takes on Kumar to go for these 12 deliveries to earn that extra ₹ 200 is in the form of sleep deprivation, physical exhaustion, mental pressure, and limited or no time for family and skill development.

The declining base rate for each delivery and increasing fuel prices are not helping either.

Let's take another example of a famous home services provider. Recently, the partners (NOT employees) of the company were involved in a protest outside the head office of the company. The issue being, the company had increased the margin it charges from its partners for every service. For example, if a hairdresser gets a job through this company, they would have to shell out around 30% to 35% of their earnings to the company as commission.

As per a few reports, the company later even filed a petition against these protesting partners.

One major lacuna in the system is the fact that these companies or 'platforms' don't consider these partners as employees, hence are saved from providing them any kind of social security, or any such facilities a regular employee would enjoy. Add to this the point that people working in the gig economy for flexibility end up working more than they would have in a traditional setting and money-wise, at times don't even earn minimum wages.

But this is not affecting only the partners, as the brunt of these policies is going to impact the companies as well. Take for example American food delivery platform 'DoorDash', it was found that when a DoorDash driver declines a delivery, the app offers that delivery to another driver for higher pay. A Facebook group was created, which now numbers more than 30,000 members, they urged peers to reject any delivery that doesn't pay at least $7 - more than double the base rate of $3.

Similarly, on September 1, 2021, many Twitch (American video live-streaming service) streamers participated in a coordinated protest — taking the day off streaming in response to the platform’s perceived inaction against harassment of marginalized creators. Platform viewership dropped by an estimated 5% to 15%.

This new form of collective labor activism, tailored to the gig economy is emerging, which is called decentralized collective action (DCA).

Similarly, in India it is common for home services provider 'partners' from reputed platforms to have a side deal with customers, offering discounts and bypassing the company.

So where does the solution lie?

Where is the fine balance that is going to define the future of the job market in India?

Maybe we require a genuine platform that is more concerned about getting the job done, rather than just the bottom line.

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