Imagine ordering your favorite food online on a rainy day to pamper yourself. However, the moment you open your door, you see your delivery person soaked in water with a smile on their face, handing you your food. Did you ever wonder why they were smiling? It's because receiving your order pays them that little amount to bring home dinner tonight for their family. But what if they fall sick? Well, they can't because if they do, they won't enjoy the benefit of sick leave the way you and I do. This is the reality for gig workers in India.
Who are Gig Workers?
The term "gig" comes from the 1920s jazz scene, where jazz musicians used it as slang for concerts. "Gig" is short for the word "engagement." In recent times, it has started being used for jobs that are temporary, do not offer many hours, or may end at any time. In India, gig workers are often associated with Ola, Uber, Swiggy, and Zomato workers, but the identification of gig workers extends beyond that. For example, freelance graphic designers, editors, realtors, independent contractors, project-based workers, and temporary or part-time hires any individual who doesn’t bind themselves by means of any contract with an employer and works on a project-to-project basis at flexible hours without having any monthly salary, just payment in accordance with the completion of the task allotted to them, are called gig workers.
India Takes More Gigs
According to a survey done by Niti Ayog in its study "India’s Booming Gig and Platform Economy," it estimated that in 2020–21, 7.7 million Indian workers were engaged in the gig economy. Most of these job holders were from urban areas with lower-income jobs such as deliveries, ride-sharing, microtasks, care, and wellness. The study also predicted that this estimated gig workforce is about to increase by 2.35 million workers by 2029-30, making it a huge chunk of India’s population working in the unorganized sector, not enjoying any form of job security.
Template For Future Gig Worker Legislation
"Hamal" is the term used to refer to people who carry sacks on their heads or shoulders. These people later formed a union called Hamal Panchayat in Maharashtra. The common thing about Hamal and today's unorganized sectors was that they also had no workplace. The employers were merchants, and the workers had a poor economic background, mostly belonging to scheduled castes. Their major issue was when they got old; they had nothing to secure their old age—no pension, no minimum wages, no sick leave, no health or education, and no employer bargaining power either.
Thus, they decided to do something about their misery; they fought hard and emerged with a law that would serve as a template for future gig worker legislation. This law was known as the Maharashtra Mathadi, Hamal and Other Manual Workers (Regulation of Employment and Welfare) Act. According to this law, there was a mathadi board responsible for the registration of both workers and merchants who used hamals. Registered merchants were required by law to deposit the workers wages and levy on every sack they carried, with the levy used for social security schemes and programs under the responsibility of the board. This act was implemented so successfully and efficiently that now Hamal Panchayat has its own bank, housing scheme, and school. They have also set up unions for other unorganized sectors, such as auto-rickshaw drivers and waste pickers.
Rajasthan Acts First
Rajasthan became the first Indian state to form legislation called the "Rajasthan Platform-Based Gig Workers (Registration and Welfare) Act." This legislative effort was inspired by the Maharashtra Mathadi, Hamal and Other Manual Workers (Regulation of Employment and Welfare) Act. Similar provisions can be seen in the Rajasthan Platform-Based Gig Workers (Registration and Welfare) Act, which states to form a board with the following duties: (a) registering platform-based gig workers and primary employers operating in the State of Rajasthan; each such platform-based gig worker will be provided a unique ID by the Board. (b) A welfare cess known as the “Platform-Based Gig Workers Welfare Cess” (at a rate as determined by the Government of Rajasthan), up to a maximum of 2% and a minimum of 1% of the value of each transaction related to platform-based gig workers shall be deposited by the 5th of every calendar month. (c) notifying schemes for the social security of registered platform-based gig workers; (d) ensuring that workers have access to benefits as per the schemes. It is also worth noting that the Act sets out substantial monetary fines extending up to INR 50,00,00 for violations of the Act by aggregators and up to INR 2,00,000 for violations by principal employers.
Along with this, the parliamentary panel of the Labour Textile and Skill Development Standing Committee has highlighted that gig workers don’t come under the Employment Provident Fund Organization (EPFO), which is one of the largest social security organizations in the world, both in terms of clients and financial transactions. It is a statutory body that manages provident funds in India. Since gig and platform workers are not paid in salaries, they are deprived of social security benefits like the provident fund, group insurance, and pension. Thus, the same committee later recommended that there is a need for a social security program to be implemented by the government. To this, the government replied that there have been MOUs signed between the National Institute of Law Bangalore and EPFO, where they are working on some social security plan to benefit the gig workforce. Thus, the journey of gig workers in India, from rain-soaked deliveries to legislative milestones, reflects a story of resilience and transformation. These legislative strides hold the promise of a future where gig workers are not just contributors to the economy but recipients of the protection and benefits they rightfully deserve.
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