Protests by gig workers engaged with startups and companies such as Swiggy, Ola and Uber in India have been routine this year, as they have complained about a fall in wages amid the pandemic and the lack of a social security net for them and their families. And while companies have often sought to explain their efforts towards the betterment of the lives of their workers, reports with independent assessment suggest that India’s gig workers have, in fact, been dealing with sub-par working conditions.
A recent report titled, Fairwork India Ratings 2020: Labour Standards in the Platform Economy, ranks some of the prominent Indian companies based on the working conditions prevalent there for temporary workers. The report, in its second year of publication, assesses companies against five principles, namely, fair play, fair conditions, fair contracts, fair management and fair representation. The report’s findings aren’t encouraging, as foodtech unicorns Swiggy and Zomato, as well as cab aggregator Uber, have been scored a paltry 1 out of 10 when judged against the criteria mentioned above.
Among the other companies who’ve been assessed for the report, Ola, Housejoy, BigBasket and Amazon scored 2 out of 10, Grofers and Dunzo managed to score 4, Flipkart at 7 and Urban Company ranks at the top with a score of 8 out of 10.
The report mentions that the companies that have been assessed in the study, were chosen since these were the top twelve platforms that provided location-based platform work in India in 2020 and were identified based on the size of their workforce, customer base and investment. During the course of the study, UberEats was acquired by Zomato, and therefore removed from the study.
As for the methodology of the study, 113 platform workers were interviewed in 92 interviews. Their inputs were then cross-referenced with the evidence garnered from the companies being assessed, about conditions of work, including data on their workers, and examples of management action across the principles. These include cases of intervention when there is discrimination, helping workers file insurance claims, setting up training programs, and holding meetings with workers. The study also gained from secondary sources such as newspaper articles, reports and academic publications.
One of the key findings in the study is about gig workers not being paid the minimum wage rate, after accounting for costs, by Swiggy, Zomato, Uber, Dunzo, BigBasket, Housejoy and Amazon.
It is worth noting that since September this year, Swiggy’s delivery workers have gone on strike in Chennai, Hyderabad and Noida, talking about a fall in their minimum payout per delivery from INR 35 to INR 15, and the removal of monthly incentives to the tune of INR 5,000. The company’s spokesperson has denied these claims made by workers but claimed that the wages have increased after the Covid-19 induced lockdown. Similar protests by Ola and Uber cab drivers have been covered by Inc42, with cab driver unions complaining about the 20-25% commission of the ride fare being charged by these companies.
Some of the other findings range from a lack of social security for workers to incomprehensible terms and conditions being made available to workers. “With a growing reliance by some platforms on labour recruited from subcontractors, workers were often unclear who was responsible for their working conditions and for the payment of wages,” reads the report.
Most of the platforms being judged in the report are also majorly relevant to the Indian startup economy. Between 2013 and 2019, of a total of $39.7 Bn in venture capital investments in India, $14.82 Bn went to 9 of the 11 platforms studied in this report.
The report also points out that only in 2019 did ‘gig’ or ‘platform’ work found explicit mention in a labour code, in the Code on Social Security, 2019. The same was studied by a standing committee and passed by Parliament in September this year.
However, as detailed in an Inc42 report, the Code suffers from a lack of clarity on key benefits outlined for the workers.
Among the encouraging points mentioned in the report, Urban Company and Flipkart were awarded the advanced point when judged for ‘fair management’. Urban Company was awarded the point for actively blocking customers who discriminate against service providers. Flipkart was awarded the point for its proactive initiatives to employ women and physically-disabled persons in its last-mile workforce.
Update — December 16, 2020, 6:54 pm: Hours after this article was published and a day after the Fairwork study was released, Zomato founder and CEO Deepinder Goyal wrote on Twitter, “Zomato ranked at the bottom of 2020 Fairwork India scores. We knew we had things to work on, but we didn’t know that there is so much room for improvement. All of us here at Zomato take full responsibility for our abysmal scores in this area, and we will leave no stone unturned to perform better in these rankings next year.”