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Your economy, our livelihoods: A policy brief by the All India Gig Workers’ Union

Posted by W.C. Shukla, Rikta Krishnaswamy, Rohin Garg, Gunjan Jena, and S.B. Natarajan at Jan 30, 2024 10:50 PM |
In this policy brief, the All India Gig Workers’ Union (AIGWU) presents its critique on NITI Aayog’s report on India’s platform economy. Through experiences from over 3 years of organising gig workers across India, they highlight fallacies in the report that disregard workers’ experiences and realities. They present alternative recommendations that are responsive to these realities, and offer pathways towards rights-affirming futures for workers in the platform economy.

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Alternative recommendations towards rights-affirming futures for workers in the platform economy

Regulating the unchecked rise of platforms and the platform workforce

The rise of platforms will not only affect workers in blue collar or grey collar jobs but also engulf other service sectors that currently provide permanent and dignified employment. The platform and gig work paradigm must not be used as a way to further deregulate the Indian economy by subterfuge.

Robust regulatory mechanisms and worker protections must be extended to the gig economy and other forms of perennial employment threatened by the new Central labour codes. Gig workers must be recognised as employees with a clear test of employment enshrined in law.

A stronger push towards better paradigms of work can only come from alternative models of platform work. It is essential that the government foster the creation of platform cooperatives in certain service sectors. Such platform cooperatives will mitigate market concentration that results from the network effects of large private platforms, offer greater stability than profit-oriented private platforms, and offer genuine pro-people alternatives.

Securing data rights and employment security

Gig workers must be guaranteed individual and collective rights to their data collected and stored by platforms. Workers’ data should belong to the workers. Workers should be able to access verified records of their training (if any) and work contributions. The government should prescribe standards to ensure that these records are machine-readable and universally inter-operable. In addition, workers must have easy access to verified receipts for each successful task performed on the platform.

Centering gender-responsive protections for workers facing intersectional vulnerabilities

Platform work is uncritically accepted as a panacea for women without taking a deeper look at labour practices, and how women workers may be particularly vulnerable to workplace risks and exploitation.

Considering these vulnerabilities, there must be legal and regulatory measures enabling women to participate in the gig economy more fully—for example, creches, sexual harassment prevention measures, equal wages, and proper hours and working conditions. Crucially, there should be safety provisions for all gig workers, especially for women who face greater dangers of harassment. Importantly, accessible and efficient enforcement mechanisms must be introduced to operationalise schemes and rights for women workers.

Securing minimum social protection guarantees for all workers on digital platforms

Effective minimum wages of INR 26,000 per month must be enforced as demanded by the Joint Platform of Central Trade Unions in India. This figure must be used to determine the minimum earnings for an hour’s worth of work on a platform.

Provision for Provident Fund (PF) must be introduced, and a bank account that does not require minimum balances or related charges must also be guaranteed. Social insurance measures must be guaranteed including health insurance, personal accident insurance, pension, maternity benefits, and disability benefits. In addition, the state government must consider waiving off charges relating to fuel surcharges and parking expenses/ penalties for gig workers, while on duty.

Security and safety for women workers must be addressed by issuing government ID cards for gig workers. Gig workers are required to travel to unknown localities, where residents tend to be suspicious of them. The government ID card will help workers establish their identity and increase their credibility among the residents.

Social security legislation and a tripartite board (with representation of workers and worker organisations, government, and platforms) must be constituted to ensure registration of all platform-based gig workers and facilitate their access to social security. The law should cover all those persons who are engaged in professions that are using digital platforms for their last mile delivery.

Building accountability mechanisms for financial inclusion measures on platforms

While including gig workers into the formal banking system is essential, this must not be used as a pretext to ensnare them into debt traps. Should the government wish to use platforms as a lever for financial inclusion, it must mandate platforms to deposit a minimum amount above and beyond workers’ existing incomes towards their consumption. For platforms, existing schemes must be rejigged—Firstly, the burden of credit schemes must not be borne only by public sector banks; the private sector must also be directed to take on some of the lending. Secondly, interest rates may be lowered for such loans, but this reduced rate must be made conditional on ensuring a certain threshold of working conditions to gig workers.

Developing workforce estimation strategies that reflect workers’ realities

Workers in the gig economy must not blindly be lumped with the unorganised sector without an understanding of nuances within the broad definition of the gig economy. Assumptions that workers in the gig economy have alternate sources of income must be refuted. Rather, in the case of gig workers in the Indian context, ground realities show that this work actually constitutes primary sources of income.

Primary data must be collected across the country where platform work is seen as a clear option for individuals to choose as a profession. Thus, one can estimate the percentage of the population that depends on the gig economy in a consistent manner. Digital platforms must provide adequate data to state governments on the number of workers registered on the platform in every region (along with work time data) in order for governments to actively prepare for public infrastructure requirements required for such employment generation.


Authors: W.C. Shukla, Rikta Krishnaswamy, Rohin Garg, Gunjan Jena, and S.B. Natarajan

Images: All India Gig Workers’ Union (AIGWU)

Design: Annushka Jaliwala

About the All India Gig Workers’ Union (AIGWU)

The All India Gig Workers’ Union (AIGWU) is a registered trade union for all food delivery, logistics, and service workers that work on any app-based platforms in India.

Contact: [email protected]

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W.C. Shukla, Rikta Krishnaswamy, Rohin Garg, Gunjan Jena, and S.B. Natarajan