Hit by pandemic, gig workers plan to create umbrella union
Following the job losses during the lockdown and an increase in instances of harassment from employers and customers, multiple gig worker groups are planning to create an umbrella union of gig workers across the country.
Tanveer Pasha, president of the Ola-Uber Drivers Association in Bengaluru, said on Tuesday that a meeting will be held next week to finalise the plan for the new platform. He said the new union will include those employed in courier services, food delivery, cabs aggregators and other services.
“We have a core team for now and we are looking at creating a network across India. We believe that it is time to look beyond individual unions and create a union for the gig workers, where everyone comes under one umbrella as gig workers,” Pasha told Hindustan Times.
Even though this is an informal economy without enough data on various jobs, once a union is established, it will attract those working across the industries to the union, Pasha said. “We are aware of the harassment delivery boys and others are facing from police, customers and companies. But (those issues) don't come out in the public,” he said.
Pasha said a verdict of the UK Supreme Court on February 19, classifying ride-hailing app Uber’s drivers as its employees and not self-employed, has been a wakeup call. “A similar order was passed by a court in California (USA) last year. We have been asking for such a law here, but the government is not responding. At the same time, we realised these issued are faced by other gig workers as well,” he said.
In a 2019 report, human resources firm TeamLease estimated that 1.3 million Indians joined the gig economy in the second half of 2018-19, registering a 30% growth compared to the first half of the fiscal year. According to the report, between the first half of 2019 and the end of its second half, the number of gig workers in Bengaluru increased from 194,400 to 252,300.
At the same time, as per the ‘Impact of COVID-19 on Livelihoods of informal sector workers and vulnerable groups in Bengaluru’ report released by the Azim Premji University on 21 February, 15% of informal sector workers in Bengaluru are still unemployed after losing their previous jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The study report added that 23% of informal sector workers experienced a break in employment during the pandemic, and about 46% are currently engaged in the same job but with less pay. Only around 6% are in the same job with either the same or more income.
The study was conducted by over 10 civil society organisations in association with Azim Premji Foundation. The study arrived at the conclusions through a combination of personal interviews, secondary data and surveys, comparing the situation of the informal sector workers and vulnerable groups of the city now to that of before the lockdown beginning March 2020.
Around 50% or more migrants (including those from Karnataka) left Bengaluru in the first few months. “They were mainly from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, West Bengal and other districts of Karnataka. Of the approximate 50% of migrants who left Bengaluru, around 32% are still not back. Half of this 32% who have not returned indicated that they will come back by January 2021 the study revealed.
In principle, gig workers are independent contractual workers who are into flexible agreements with companies or through platforms for on-demand work completion. However, Kaveri Madappa, a researcher on gig economies, said workers in the informal sector are not exactly gig workers. “They are not doing a gig for a company and moving on. Most of these workers depend on these jobs for their livelihood. To call them gig workers is in fact problematic,” she said.
“The industry claims that it is up to the workers to choose how long they want to work and there is no limit on how many hours they can work. When the income and perks start to fall, they have no option but to extend their work to learn little over ₹1,000,” Madappa said.
She added that the aggregators and other app-based companies offload the risk of the business on the workers. “Even though industry experts claim the gig economy is formalising the informal sector through technology, the fact is that it is a digitally enabled informality,” said the researcher.