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Safety issues for women in the India’s gig economy!

Safety issues for women in the India’s gig economy!

By- Aditi Maheshwari


A New Era of Work!

The Indian gig economy started proliferating during the CoVID-19 pandemic, and is going to accelerate in the coming years. High level growth has been visible recently leaving behind the time when Flipkart was the only digital platform in the country early 2010. Other digital platforms have flooded the market, offering services such as food delivery, financial services, shopping etc. Example: Swiggy, Blinkit, etc.

India registered 7,17,686 gig workers in the year 2021. Out of these 58% are from Bengal, UP and Bihar alone. The official data was collected via the informal sector data base of the union labour ministry. According to the statistics presented in parliament on 3 February 2022, 219,443 gig workers have registered in West Bengal, followed by 128,241 in Uttar Pradesh and 67,329 in Bihar. Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh have also reported increased registration of gig workers. In states like Maharashtra and Gujarat these number stand at 18,497 and 12,502, respectively. In Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, the number of gig workers, who have registered with the central government data base, stands at 9,826 and 9,405, respectively, as per the latest data till January 28.

The latest Economic Survey panegyrize India as one of the largest countries for flexi-staffing in the world, and digital platforms act as facilitators for employment generation. The gig economy offers a strong post-pandemic economic recovery for India. A spike in women workers joining the gig workforce is re-enforcing this trend. This brings attention and focus to the protection of women gig, platform workers from workplace bias, sexual harassment, etc. The informal nature of the gig economy makes them easily vulnerable. Neither gig nor platform workers, can be classified as "employee" under POSH (The Prevention of Sexual Harassment at Workplace Act of India) which makes them easy targets for exploitation. Amending POSH rules to include gig workers may be complicated, as the employer$s role under POSH are not easily addressable.  Employers are required to provide requisite resources towards facilities for female workers, prevention of harassment, and in case of an incident, redressal of complaints, including establishment of an Internal Committee (IC).

Gig workers, like freelancers, independent consultants, counsellors, cloud workers (IT, media, marketing) may encounter challenges not visible prima-facie given their inaccessibility to institutional support, ex: human resources department, vigilance cell, etc. Remote-working culture creates other problems such as loneliness, depression, etc. Mental health concerns need to thus be addressed with priority. Also, such workers are at high risk of online sexual harassment as they need to share their personal contact details, which makes them easy prey to unsolicited calls and messages at untimely hours.

What’s going unnoticed is the silent evolution of gig work among white collar workers, with platforms such as Amazon mTurk and Fiverr attracting freelance workers globally. As per the general growing trend, the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimates a fivefold increase in the number of digital labor platforms during the last decade. Another good example is LinkedIn, which is entering the scene by offering a worldwide gig platform for freelancers.

Discontent for India$s Gig Workers

Another form of harassment for gig-workers is that they get caught up in an arbitrarily designed ratings and rewards-based online set-up that has been widely criticised. Currently, the app-based system, poor work conditions, lack of social security benefits, and the failure to accord them ‘employee’ status legally remain some of the biggest hurdles for these workers. In June 2021, Zomato, the popular online food delivery platform, announced that it planned to increase women delivery workers from 0.5% to 10% of their total workforce. Through a blog post on their website, the company’s CEO Deepinder Goyal announced four initiatives to increase the participation of women delivery workers. These included: Access to safety-related tools such as self-defence training and safety kits; contactless deliveries; SOS and helpline buttons on the app’s interface; plus extending support from the company’s partner-restaurants for amenities including access to their toilets. But no such facilities have been provided substantially for women gig workers, often resulting in health ailments.  If a worker speaks out, against the company they are working for, their ID’s get blocked. No one dares to speak as job security is essential for most of the delivery women are single mothers or individuals on whom their entire family is dependent. These companies fail to fulfil the promises they make to their employees but somehow manage to secure the publicity.

The Code on Social Security, which yet to be implemented recognises gig workers as a new occupational category and defines the gig worker as a person who performs work or participates in work arrangement and earns from such activities, outside of the traditional employer-employee relationship. JCode on Social Security, 2020, for the first time, defines gig workers and envisages social security benefits through formulation of schemes. The Code on Social Security, 2020 cater to set up a Social Security Fund and one of the sources of fund, is contribution between 1% to 2% of annual turnover of an aggregator subject to the limit of 5% of the amount paid or payable by an aggregator to such workers. According to the labour ministry no scheme has been finalized as the provisions under the Code relating to gig and platform worker have not yet come into effect. None of the four labour codes – on wages, social security, industrial code, and occupational safety – has come into effect despite being passed by Parliament more than a year back. Unfortunately, the ground reality remains the same.

"Employee" status should not be a prerequisite for ascertaining security by a working individual. As observed by the Supreme Court in 1997, an unsafe work environment is desecration of the fundamental right of carrying on any occupation, trade or business. This right extends to one and all, irrespective of their employment status. Questions relating to effects of technology and 5G, on the future labor market and internationalization must also be considered.