A Compilation of Research on the Gig Economy

Posted by Aayush Rathi, Ambika Tandon, Sumandro Chattapadhyay at May 19, 2020 08:20 AM |
Over the past year, researchers at CIS have been studying gig economies and gig workers in India. Their work has involved consultative discussions with domestic workers, food delivery workers, taxi drivers, trade union leaders, and government representatives to document the state of gig work in India, and highlight the concerns of gig workers. The imposition of a severe lockdown in India in response to the outbreak of COVID-19 has left gig workers in precarious positions. Without the privilege of social distancing, these workers are having to contend with a drastic reduction in income, while also placing themselves at heightened health risks.


On gig economy during the COVID-19 pandemic

Supported by Feminist Internet Research Network led by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

  • Along with Tandem Research, we spoke to leaders of four unions that represent gig workers across the country about the risks and vulnerabilities that they are having to contend with in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. Zothan Mawii (Tandem Research), Ambika Tandon, and Aayush Rathi share key reflections in this essay published on The Wire. (link).

  • Based on the discussion, a charter of recommendations was prepared with contributions from participants, and was shared with public and private stakeholders. (link)


On domestic workers in the platform economy 

Supported by Feminist Internet Research Network led by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

  • We discussed our ongoing research on the platformisation of domestic work in India with domestic workers, union members, and representatives from the Karnataka Labour Department in November 2019. Tasneem Mewa documented the rich discussion from this consultation. (link)

CIS worked with members of the Domestic Workers Rights Union to conduct field research on the lives and challenges of domestic workers in the platform economy. The following essays published on GenderIT capture their experiences of doing this research:

  • Parijatha G.P. writes about a “gated society management app,” MyGate, and the experiences of surveillance of migrant workers in Bengaluru. (link

  • Radha Keerthna writes about the similarity in the conditions of domestic workers in the traditional and platform economy, particularly the precarity and invisibility of labour. (link)

  • Sumathi, a union leader, reflects on and her experience as an activist-researcher interacting with domestic gig workers through the course of our study. (link)

  • Zeenathunissa shares the difficulty of speaking to domestic workers in the gig economy, especially when workers undergo constant surveillance by employers and companies. (link)


On economic, algorithmic, and affective vulnerabilities of gig workers

Supported by Azim Premji University

CIS commissioned a set of four field studies of platform workers delivering food and driving taxis for platform companies in Mumbai and New Delhi. The researchers involved wrote a series of essays that were published by Platypus blog of CASTAC:

  • Anushree Gupta explores women’s presence as workers as well as passengers/customers in the ride hailing platform economy in Mumbai and related concerns of safety and risk mitigation. (link)

  • Sarah Zia highlights how algorithmic management of work and revenue targets of gig workers impact their everyday lives and plans for the future. (link)

  • Kinship networks are a critical source of safety and security for workers in the gig economy. Simiran Lalvani writes about the network among transportation workers in Mumbai, also reflecting on implications for those who are excluded. (link)

  • Noopur Raval and Rajendra Jadhav describe the unregulated and exploitative temporal structures of gig work, and how work-time of gig workers get configured by customer-facing promises of platform companies. (link)

  • The four researchers, led by Noopur Raval (co-PI for the project, held a roundtable discussion to reflect on methods, challenges, inter-subjectivities and possible future directions for research on the gig economy and its workers. (link)

The consultants - Noopur Raval, Anushree Gupta, Rajendra Jadhav, Sarah Zia and Simiran Lalvani - involved in this project on mapping digital labour in India’s platform economies (in Mumbai and New Delhi) gathered in Bengaluru on July 19, 2019 to share their preliminary field insights along with reflections on what it meant to do such studies, how they went about studying gig-work, and challenges that arose in their work. Watch the livestream from this discussion here.


Aayush Rathi, Ambika Tandon, Sumandro Chattapadhyay