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This article was first published 1 year ago  » Business » Why India's gig workforce is still outside purview of basic benefits

Why India's gig workforce is still outside purview of basic benefits

By Debarghya Sanyal & Shiva Rajora
April 07, 2023 12:23 IST
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If you have seen Zwigato, Param Kumar’s story will sound familiar.

Gig workers

Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/

Laid off from his job as a repairman at a Gurugram-based water purifier provider, he now delivers groceries and food for a mobile-based delivery app, in Delhi.

Kumar, who started making deliveries last August, told Business Standard that he is working longer hours than his older salaried job as an RO repairman, and has no paid leaves or health insurance.


Kumar is part of India’s estimated 7.7 million-strong force of gig workers.

The number of gig workers is expected to grow to 23.5 million by 2029-30, according to a Niti Aayog report.

Another recent report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry also points out that nearly 42.24 per cent of India’s start-ups are looking to hire temporary and gig workers.

Arif Siddiqui, a delivery partner for Blinkit, said that more than 45 men from his village near Jhajjar, Haryana, have taken up gig work as delivery personnel or drivers with firms like Ola, Uber, Zomato, Swiggy and Dunzo.

“Some are driving cabs while looking for permanent jobs or earning money in the big city as their fields lay fallow for the next sowing season,” Siddiqui explained.

But is it easy to hunt for permanent jobs while working temporary ones?

Both Kumar and Siddiqui work seven days a week. Kumar starts work at 8 am, and Siddiqui at 9.

Both work beyond midnight.

With such all-consuming schedules, gig workers hardly get time for family or divert their energy to other creative processes.

Moreover, the average daily earning of the gig worker remains paltry.

“Counting the tips, and deducting fuel prices, my daily earnings hardly exceed Rs 600.

"The monthly income barely scratches Rs 20,000,” Kumar said.

In 2020, the government of India consolidated 44 labour codes into four.

The Social Security Code of 2020 offered guidelines to companies for gig work. It included gig workers in its very definition of social security.

It said, “Social security means the measure of protection afforded to employees, unorganised workers and gig workers.”

Since the subject of labour is on the concurrent list, the rules under the Social Security Code need to be drafted by the Centre as well as states.

“The delay is due to the state governments being in the process of formulating rules and there is a conflict between the respective representatives of employers and employees over some provisions in the draft rules.

"As of July 2022, 25 states/Union Territories had framed draft rules under the Social Security Code, 2020.

"As a step towards implementation of the labour codes, the Centre has taken the step to pre-publish the draft rules, inviting comments of all stakeholders,” Nandini Gore, senior partner, Karanjawala & Co, explained.

The Social Security Code draft rules provide for Aadhaar-based registration, including self-registration by gig workers, on the central government portal.

Gig workers would be eligible to register if they are aged between 16 and 60 years and their companies would need to pay a monthly contribution.

Further, the state government and the aggregators were made responsible to register eligible gig workers, who were not enrolled under the Employees State Insurance or Employees Provident Fund schemes, on the central government portal.

Shaik Salauddin, national general secretary of the Indian Federation of App-Based Transport Workers, said that the central government was yet to implement the codes or act on suggestions that the federation had sent in lieu of the labour code drafts.

Thanks to the delay, Kumar or Siddiqui’s hectic workdays do not fetch them paid leave, health benefits, pension, medical cover or a provident fund.

However, Sachin Alug, CEO of talent solutions firm NLB Services, said that the increasing dependency of companies on gig workers was forcing them to adopt a more empathetic approach.

“Companies today are adopting gig workers as an integral cog in the system and offering new benefits for them.

"The formerly transactional relationship between employers and gig workers is being repackaged for higher engagement of top professionals,” he said.

According to the Annual Insights Report by RazorpayX Payroll, from October 2021 to September 2022 there had been 62 per cent increase in the number of gig workers earning between Rs 85,000 and Rs 150,000 and 69 per cent increase for those earning over Rs 150,000.

“In fact, several companies incentivise contract workers with pay above market rate and other perks recognising the trade-off that both companies and contract staff make.

"The business need to create nimble and agile teams is here to stay,” said Jaymin Bhuptani, founder and CEO of Uplers, a tech-talent matchmaking firm.

“We already offer the most essential benefits and provide safety and health care support to delivery partners.

"We have provided inputs to the government and trust them with the successful implementation of the code,” a Zomato spokesperson told Business Standard.

Balasubramanian A, business head at Teamlease Services, also pointed out that some firms were covering them under third-party insurance policies such as group medical cover, group personal accident cover and group term life insurance that are crucial considering many gig/platform workers are required to travel extensively.

Companies such as BigBasket and Flipkart have also committed to ensure that all gig workers on their platforms earn at least the hourly local minimum wage after factoring in their work-related costs.

An Uber spokesperson said its registered drivers have access to on-trip insurance and micro-credits through the platform, among other benefits.

“We also launched India’s first driver advisory council last year to facilitate a two-way dialogue between Uber and drivers to address critical issues and improve drivers’ platform experience.”

The government’s e-Shram portal also aims to extend the benefits of social security schemes to migrant workers, construction workers, and gig and platform workers.

If a worker registered on the e-Shram portal meets with an accident, he will be eligible for Rs 200,000 in case of death or permanent disability, and Rs 100,000 lakh for partial disability.

In the state Budget last month, the Rajasthan government also set aside Rs 200 crore, a new law and a board under it, for the welfare of such workers.

However, Salauddin pointed out, the responses of employers have been anything but uniform and most of the reforms or measures remain on paper.

Alug believes the management of gig workers must be approached with a more empathetic lens.

“Despite the Centre taking control of matters relating to life and disability cover, there’s still a long way to go in executing them for the betterment of gig workers.

"Paid time off, health and well-being protection, and uniformity between regular employees and gig workers are some of the aspects that can be reformed for the social security code to make a difference.”

For workers like Kumar, the essential requirement, however, boils down to being “treated as human beings”.

Additional reporting by Raghav Aggarwal

Work in progress

  • Provisions in the social security code draft rules
  • Aadhaar-based registration, including self-registration by gig workers, on the central government e-Shram portal
  • Gig workers aged between 16 and 60 eligible to register; their companies would need to pay a monthly contribution
  • It is the responsibility of the state government to ensure aggregators register eligible gig workers under the ESI or EPF schemes
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Debarghya Sanyal & Shiva Rajora
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