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Nagrik Podcast: Labour Organising in Tech - I (Gig and Platform Work)

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In August and September of 2020, delivery executives of Swiggy struck work in many Indian cities. They wanted to draw attention to the fact that in spite of the Covid 19 pandemic and the steep increase in petrol prices, Swiggy had reduced what was known as the base component of the remuneration paid to the executives from Rs. 35 to Rs. 15. Images of Swiggy executives kneeling down on the streets of Hyderabad were carried by several media outlets.

In March of 2021, the Telangana State Taxi and Drivers Joint Action Committee announced that 35000 taxis participated in a Black Flag Cab March, a symbolic protest where taxis offered their services with black flags to highlight the fact that even amidst rising fuel prices, the app-based cab aggregators Uber and Ola had not increased the base rates for drivers. In May, the United Food Delivery Partners Union held an online protest that urged the state government for a financial relief package, vaccination on priority, and the provision of masks, sanitisers, and face shields.

A significant majority of work in India is performed through informal forms of employment. The emergence of the gig or platform economy during the past decade has transformed this world of work in many sectors. Most visibly, location-based apps have transformed how people access location-specific work such driving, delivery, domestic work, and beauty services. Another category of work, known as cloud work, refers to short-duration jobs that could be performed from anywhere with an internet connection.

The claim made on behalf of technology platforms that have mediated work during the last decade is that they would increase transparency and as a result, wages and working conditions. Another claim is that they allow women, persons with disabilities, young people and others who are marginalized in traditional labour markets to access work.

An issue at the centre of the global conversation on the gig and platform economy however is how platforms have avoided any obligations under labour laws. As a result of the characterisation of the workers who perform services using these platforms on a daily basis as entrepreneurs or freelancers instead of as employees, platforms are able to shift much of the risk of business to these workers.

Platforms however, have claimed that people are able to access through them, work that is better than what would otherwise be available to them, under less rigid arrangements.

In this episode of the Nagrik podcast, we learn from a group of experts about measuring the quality of gig and platform work and the challenges facing gig and platform workers who want to organise and negotiate for better work.

We learn from:

Shaik Sallaudin, the Hyderabad-based National General Secretary of the Indian Federation of Transport Workers

Vinay Sarathy, the Bengaluru-based President of the United Food Delivery Partners Union

Sadhna Sanjay, Research Assistant at the Bengaluru-based NGO, IT for Change

Aditi Surie, sociologist and consultant with the Indian Institute of Human Settlements

Ayush Rathi, Senior Researcher, at the Bengaluru-based Centre for Internet and Society

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