Gig Workers: The Need To Regulate The Unregulated

Pranav Aggarwal

26 Dec 2023 5:57 AM GMT

  • Gig Workers: The Need To Regulate The Unregulated

    Recently, on 20th October 2023, in response to a delegation of Gig Workers Association, the Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal announced that the government would certainly address the concerns of the gig workers and even legislate if the need arises.[1] Such demand from the workers and the subsequent response comes majorly because of two reasons. Firstly, with the...

    Recently, on 20th October 2023, in response to a delegation of Gig Workers Association, the Chief Minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal announced that the government would certainly address the concerns of the gig workers and even legislate if the need arises.[1] Such demand from the workers and the subsequent response comes majorly because of two reasons. Firstly, with the exponential expansion of the service sector recently, such section of gig workers is ever-increasing and so is their concerns relating to their working conditions and social securities. Secondly, the promulgation of Rajasthan Platform Based Gig Workers (Registration and Welfare) Act, 2023 (hereinafter as 'the Rajasthan Act') recently has somewhat supported the aspirations of the gig workers to demand for such specific legislation in other states as well. [2]

    In this context, three aspects of gig workers are examined here, firstly, aims to explore a brief overview of the idea of gig workers in context of their current emergence of the gig economy. Secondly, the legislations and regulations that exist for such workers will be discussed briefly. Lastly, the shortcomings and solutions will be discussed to underline the dire need of regulating the emerging but large enterprises for securing the bare minimum rights of the gig workers.

    An Economy Of Gig Workers

    According to the Ministry of Labour and Employment, “a gig worker is a person who engages in income-earning activities outside of a traditional employer-employee relationship, as well as in the informal sector”.[3] A deeper look into this definition itself clearly reflects the recent but unstructured nature of employment that such workers are bound to deal with. However, in spite of the uncertainties, the 'gig economy' has been attracting considerably high interest in the employment market.

    According to Niti Aayog's recent report, currently, India employment market in the period of 2020-21 included approximately 77 Lakh gig workers which is estimated to be increased to 2.35 crores by 2029-30. [4] According to the Economic Survey of 2020-21, India has emerged as a country with one of largest number of gig workers in the world. [5] These numbers in themselves reflect the drastic change that is being witnessed by the Indian Economy currently. A large chunk of the unemployed youth is taking up such contractual jobs as, for instance, Zomato delivery persons or Uber drivers. Such jobs might not provide them job security or stable income but still can provide for decent livelihood with flexible working conditions.[6]

    Apart from unemployment, the steep rise in the proportion of Indian service sector, primarily the online aggregators and the logistics attached to it, has created a lot of opportunities for the youth to capitalize on. [7] Whether it's any product that can be possible bought or even it is the consumer him/herself, the gig workers actualizes the idea of 'home-delivery' or 'delivery to home' at almost any hour of the day. However, even though they form the working-arm of the digital revolution, the gig workers still remained largely unaddressed and unregulated. This made them vulnerable to exploitation at the hands of the employer and deprive them of the minimum securities as available to other regular workers.

    Regulation Yes. Protection No.

    Until 2020, various ministries and think tanks flagged their concerns regarding the statutory need for regulating gig workers. Finally, and fortunately, with the promulgation of the Code of Social Security, 2020, the idea of gig workers was somewhat recognized in the statute. [8] The code expanded the application of social security benefits to not only workers organize sector but unorganized as well wherein gig workers also got their due space. However, the non-implementation of the regulation for such a dynamic industry requires an urgent attention. [9]

    This leaves the gig workers at the mercy of the courts to interpret the terms of the existing laws like the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act 1970 to include them as well.[10] This ambiguity has been 'well-manipulated' by the online giants to exploit the workers while continuing the perennial litigation against them. Such framework evidently requires either the implementation of the code as soon as possible or bring some temporary protection until the implementation can be fully completed. To some extent, the latter has been brought about in Rajasthan with its recent Act.

    In 2023, the Rajasthan Act becomes the first legislation of any kind specifically underlying the concerns of the gig workers employed by digital platforms like Amazon, Flipkart, Dunzo, etc. [11] Whether it is the idea of robust redressal system or introduction of separate cess from the aggregators or even proper registration of the gig workers with the state, the Rajasthan Act has covered it all. [12] However this Act also has its significant shortcomings.

    Firstly, it is seldom that Labour redressal bodies are conducted in the manner prescribed and the disputes are well addressed. In 2020, around 8008 cases are pending for more than five years in Industrial Tribunals and Labour Courts. [13] In that background, bringing another framework of dispute resolution on the State's plate cannot be expected to get proper and efficacious implementation.

    Secondly, most of the gig workers ultimately end up performing all what a regular employee does. Still, they are not given those long-term benefits due to the restrictive manner they are being defined under the statue. [14] Ultimately, laying down the cases wherein they could be termed as an employee could have benefitted them more than it did by making their status distinct.

    Conclusively, the existing regulations whether at the level of union and the state have failed to either deliver the envisaged objectives or present a more efficacious remedy for the gig workers. The current efforts by the governments are clearly short of the contemporary need of an emerging but large section.

    Solutions To Schemes

    Almost coinciding with the promulgation of the Rajasthan Act, the television comedian, Kapil Sharma along with Nandita Rao released their movie Zwigato. [15] The movie addressed the whole gamut of issues faced a gig worker and attempts to highlight the social and economic angle of their profession. Thus, from courts to theatres, the real conditions and issues of gig workers are now catching the eyes of the mainstream.

    However, in contrast to the issues, solutions have been barely discussed or implemented. Hopefully, half of the problem might get resolved with the proper implementation of the Social Security Code. For the other half, as this community of workers will increase and stronger will be their association and unions, solutions will democratically be given more attention and other relevant schemes could be implemented.

    Additionally, cases across several courts regarding concerns of the gig workers are sub-judice and as soon as they are decided, a clarity could be brought to the further course of action.[16] Finally, an inner mechanism within the aggregator must be brought in so that most of the workers' concerns could be well settled in a transparent and accountable manner, not become a battle for the gig workers for their basic rights.

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