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Blinkit protests: For gig workers, there is no income security – and little legal recourse

Posted by Aditi Surie and Ambika Tandon at Dec 31, 2020 12:00 AM |
Aditi Surie and Ambika Tandon co-authored an opinion essay on the reasons behind a week-long strike by workers of Blinkit — a popular hyperlocal delivery platform. The protests were in response to changes in Blinkit’s policies that will halve workers’ pay.

The article was published in the Indian Express on April 20, 2023.

By calling themselves 'intermediaries' platforms are reducing workers' incomes, increasing labour insecurity.

Blinkit delivery agents have been on strike for a week as a reaction to changes that will halve their monthly incomes. The protests started after the company changed the basis on which they will get paid, and how much they will get paid. These two factors: The calculation of “wages” and the actual sum of money earned have been at the heart of many gig worker protests over the years. Uber and Ola drivers have protested about big drops in their income over the years. The Blinkit protests last week are a reminder of the kind of problems that are specific to gig-platform workers. Gig-platform worker wages can be changed quickly, and are at the mercy of much larger forces in a platform company like Blinkit.

Despite being labelled self-employed independent contractors by companies, platform workers have little control over their terms of work. They have to get used to platforms dictating how much they earn per task if they want to work. But to change the entire structure of pay has made many workers feel defrauded and lied to. Until these changes, Blinkit used to pay workers through an assured base pay of Rs 25 with incentives on top that nudged workers to work more, faster, or on particular days. As per workers’ accounts, this allowed them to earn Rs 6,000 to 7,000 a week with a degree of certainty, with Rs 1,400 to 1,500 being spent on fuel and other expenses. The base pay had already been reduced last year from Rs 50 despite rising fuel costs and inflation driving up costs of survival. In the current instance of policy change, the company provided no prior information to workers that they would, now, be paid for each kilometre they drive. Platforms like to call this “effort”-based pay. The effort here is how far your motorcycle runs and has little to do with how much real effort it takes to complete a delivery. For Blinkit, which provides grocery delivery within a 2-km radius, the chance for workers to make a secure income is low. Their incomes also depend on the rate for each kilometre ridden. This rate always changes, but most delivery agents do not know when it will change. It can change at any given day or week, or time in the day so that there is no surety on how much a worker will take home any given week.

Incentive-driven payout structures have “gamified” platform work, such that workers are forced to compete for an increasing number of tasks within compressed periods with the promise of bonus pay. These structures are constantly shifting, with workers complaining that companies reduce their task allocations so they are unable to meet their incentives. This level of volatility and uncertainty is a hallmark of taxi and delivery platforms.

To access the full article, log on to Indian Express web page