State of Gig Workers in India – Rajasthan Gig Workers Act and ONDC

As the flight touched down at Chennai International Airport at quarter past midnight, Aditya was relieved to be back in the city after a long business trip. He quickly booked a cab through a ride-hailing app to take him home to Anna Nagar. The cab driver, Rajesh, requested that he be paid a tip of Rs. 100 above the bill amount, which Aditya agreed to reluctantly.

The car glided through the night, and Aditya decided to break the silence, curious about Rajesh’s life as a gig worker. With the gentle Chennai breeze rustling Rajesh’s hair, he began to share his story.

“You know, sir,” Rajesh began, “I used to be a delivery person in a popular food delivery platform not too long ago. I remember countless nights when I braved heavy rain and traffic to ensure people got their food hot and on time. It was a demanding job, but I did it with a smile because I knew I was bringing joy through food.”

Aditya nodded, appreciating the dedication of the delivery personnel.

“But,” Rajesh continued, “it wasn’t always smooth sailing. Many times, I struggled to make ends meet. The pay was unpredictable, and there were days when tips from customers made all the difference.”

Aditya nodded in understanding, knowing how important tips were for delivery personnel.

“Then,” Rajesh continued, “I made the switch to this ride-hailing platform after I purchased a second-hand Swift Dzire on loan. Becoming a cab driver gave me a more stable income. I still face challenges, like dealing with traffic and rising fuel prices.”

Rajesh explained, “The aggregators take a commission from us drivers. It’s how they make money. And sometimes, the fare they set doesn’t fully cover the expenses we incur – fuel, maintenance, and other costs.”

Aditya now understood the predicament better. “So, charging extra is a way for you to make up for those costs?”

Rajesh nodded. “Exactly, sir. It’s not that we want to overcharge customers, but sometimes it’s the only way we can ensure we don’t end up losing money on a trip.”

Rajesh reflected, “I’m lucky that I’m still able to make a living as a cab driver. But I know that it’s not going to last forever. The gig economy is only going to get more competitive, and it’s going to be harder and harder for us to make a living. I hope that the government will do something to help us. We need some kind of security so that we can plan for our future. We need to be able to know that we won’t be left out in the cold if something happens to our jobs.”

Aditya, while reflecting on the plight of gig workers, added, “Recently, I came across news that the Rajasthan government has come up with a law that provides various benefits to gig workers like you. I wish we had a law like that in our state as well.”

“Yes, sir,” Rajesh said, “I’ve been following the news about the Rajasthan Platform-Based Gig Workers (Registration and Welfare) Act, 2023. It’s a significant development, sir.”

Rajesh continued, “This act aims to provide welfare and social security measures for gig workers in Rajasthan. It’s a major step forward. It establishes a welfare board and a social security fund specifically for platform-based gig workers. They’ll get unique IDs, social security benefits, and a grievance redressal mechanism.”

“That sounds like a game-changer,” Aditya remarked.

“Yes, sir,” Rajesh agreed. “But what I hope for is a central legislation that covers gig workers across the country. It would provide a safety net for workers like me who often face uncertain income.”

Aditya nodded in agreement as the cab smoothly navigated the night streets of Chennai.

As they approached Anna Nagar, Aditya thanked Rajesh for sharing his story and insights. He admired Rajesh’s determination and resilience as a gig worker who had experienced both the challenges of food delivery and cab driving in Chennai’s bustling gig economy.

As he stepped out of the cab, Aditya couldn’t help but reflect on the importance of central legislation to protect the rights and livelihoods of gig workers across the country. Rajesh’s story shed light on the complex realities faced by gig workers and the need for comprehensive measures to support them.

Gig worker means a person who performs work or participates in a work arrangement and earns from such activities outside of the traditional employer-employee relationship.

Aggregator means a digital intermediary or a marketplace for a buyer or user of a service to connect with the seller or the service provider.

The Code on Social Security, 2020

Gig Economy in India – Challenges and Prospects of Gig Workers 

The gig economy in India is a major source of employment for millions of people. Platforms like Ola, Uber, Swiggy, Zomato, and others offer flexible work arrangements and the potential for high earnings, attracting workers who are unable to find traditional jobs.

According to a recent Boston Consulting Group report, the gig economy in India has the potential to create up to 90 million jobs, generate USD 250 billion in revenue, and contribute 1.25% to India’s GDP. This makes the gig economy a significant force in the Indian economy.

However, gig workers are often not treated as employees by the platforms they work for. This means that they are not entitled to the same benefits and protections as traditional employees, such as minimum wage, paid sick leave, and health insurance.

In addition, gig workers are often subject to unfair practices by the platforms. For example, they may be required to wear uniforms and carry documents, even though they are not considered employees. They may also be penalized for not meeting the terms and targets set by the platforms.

In some cases, gig workers have even been injured or killed on the job, and the platforms have refused to provide compensation. This highlights the need for stronger laws to protect gig workers in India.

Social Security Code, 2020

The passing of the Rajasthan Platform-Based Gig Workers (Registration and Welfare) Act, 2023 (RGW Act, 2023) is considered an important milestone for gig workers in their struggle for better working conditions and social security protections.

Before we get into details of the landmark legislation passed by Rajasthan, it will be imperative to understand the Social Security Code enacted in 2020 that covers gig workers and platform workers alongside unorganized workers with specific provisions on accident, health insurance, and retirement benefits. The Social Security Code is an umbrella legislation that integrates nine different laws related to labor welfare and rights such as The Employees Compensation Act, The Employees State Insurance Act, The Maternity Benefit Act, The Building and Other Construction Workers Cess Act, and The Unorganized Workers’ Social Security Act. However, relevant provisions for gig workers and platform workers are yet to come into force.

Rajasthan Platform-Based Gig Workers (Registration and Welfare) Act, 2023

Rajasthan Platform-Based Gig Workers (Registration and Welfare) Act, 2023 is a first-of-its-kind ground-breaking piece of legislation that aims to establish a welfare board and a dedicated social security fund for platform-based gig workers in the state. The legislation is a major victory for gig workers and their unions, who have been fighting for years for better working conditions and protections.

Here are some of the key provisions of the RGW Act:

  • Registration of all gig workers and issuance of unique IDs.
  • Registration of aggregators and primary employers.
  • Levy of a monetary cess (less than 2% and more than 1%) on platform-based transactions to fund the social security fund.
  • Provision of social security benefits to gig workers, including accident and health insurance, maternity benefits, and pension.
  • Grievance redressal mechanism for gig workers.
  • Regular consultations with trade unions working with platform workers.
  • Provisions for heavy penalties (up to Rs 50 lakh) on non-complying aggregators and employers.

The proposed welfare board is to comprise state officials, representatives of workers, aggregators, and civil society, with at least one-third of the nominated members to be women.

While the RGW Act 2023 is a historic legislation much needed to support the workforce, there are concerns highlighted:

  • There is a possibility of contributions to the fund being deducted from the workers’ earnings as they are already heavily distressed
  • Need for provisions on basic minimum earnings
  • Capping of commission rates and deductions by companies
  • Capping of maximum working hours
  • Stopping illegal and arbitrary deactivation of workers’ IDs
  • Data transparency
  • Provisions for fuel and other inflation-adjusted fares and allowances

While there is still a long way to go, the Rajasthan Platform-Based Gig Workers (Registration and Welfare) Act of 2023 (RGW Act) is a major step forward in giving gig workers a dignified identity and recognition.

If implemented well, the RGW Act could help to improve the lives of gig workers in Rajasthan and set a precedent for other states to follow. This Act is a victory for the gig economy workforce and their unions, who have been fighting for years for better working conditions and protections.

Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC)

The discussion on the gig economy and gig workers in India would be incomplete without the Open Network for Digital Commerce (ONDC). The ONDC is a government-backed initiative in India that seeks to create a unified open platform for the digital commerce ecosystem, which is now dominated by a few large players. It aims to establish a fair and transparent digital market benefiting all stakeholders, including sellers, buyers, and delivery personnel.

Here are some of the ways in which ONDC can benefit gig economy workers:

  • Increased opportunities: ONDC will create more opportunities for gig workers by providing them with a platform to connect with businesses and customers. This is because ONDC will be an open platform, which means that any business or customer can participate.
  • Better bargaining power: ONDC will give gig workers more bargaining power by allowing them to compare offers from different businesses. This is because ONDC will have a rating system that will allow gig workers to see the ratings of different businesses.
  • Fairer terms: ONDC will promote fairer terms for gig workers by requiring businesses to disclose their fees and terms of service. This will help gig workers to avoid being exploited by businesses.
  • Access to training and support: ONDC will provide gig workers with access to training and support services. This will help gig workers to improve their skills and knowledge, which will make them more marketable to businesses.
  • Protection of rights: ONDC will promote the protection of the rights of gig workers. This includes the right to fair wages, the right to safe working conditions, and the right to social security benefits.

One such example is Namma Yatri, an open-source auto rickshaw booking app in Bengaluru, India which is backed by the Autorickshaw Drivers Union (ARDU). Namma Yatri has joined ONDC, which has allowed it to reach a wider audience and compete with other ride-hailing apps like Uber and Ola. Also, it has a competitive advantage as it charges zero commission to drivers, unlike others which charge commissions of up to 30%. As a result, customers pay less and drivers earn more.

Overall, ONDC has the potential to be a major force for good in the gig economy in India. It can help to increase opportunities for gig workers, improve their bargaining power, and protect their rights.

Way Forward

In conclusion, the plight of gig workers deserves the attention and support of society, businesses, and the government. By combining the benefits of progressive legislation and the innovative potential of platforms like ONDC, we can pave the way for a brighter future for gig workers across India. Their resilience and dedication deserve to be met with meaningful reforms and a more secure and dignified existence.

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