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‘Future of work’ or 21st–century oppressed labour?: Findings from an AIGWU survey with 50 Urban Company housekeeping workers in Bengaluru

Posted by Nihira Ram at May 16, 2024 03:29 PM |
n this essay, Nihira Ram shares findings from a survey done by the All India Gig Workers Union with more than 50 migrant workers living in a slum in Bengaluru. The workers primarily provided cleaning and domestic services on the platform, Urban Company (previously UrbanClap).

Nihira highlights the impact that diluted rights and rising exploitation have had on the workers. The workers’ experiences show how they faced mounting costs merely to access work on the platform. Once they joined, the workers faced oppressive working conditions and stringent control by the platform, where rules and processes are designed in favour of the platform, at the expense of its workers. Not only were the workers from highly marginalised backgrounds and more vulnerable to this exploitation, a paucity of alternative jobs and their tenuous position as migrants meant that they were trapped by the platform’s unfair practices for years.

When workers join Urban Company as housekeeping services ‘partners’, they first pay INR 16,000 as ‘joining fees’. After undergoing an uncompensated training programme, which costs them INR 1,000, workers are rebranded as ‘professionals’ who are now eligible to provide the services for which they have been trained.

However, the provision of services comes at a huge cost to the workers. They have to pay INR 6,000 per month in order to receive a number of guaranteed jobs as part of the Minimum Guarantee plan (MG Plan) – or, as the workers refer to them – leads. Urban Company terms this a ‘subscription’.

In essence, Urban Company does not qualify people from whom they generate profit as workers. They consider them ‘professionals’ who are ‘subscribing’ to the platform in order to ‘market’ their ‘services’ to earn an income. Workers are cunningly portrayed as another set of ‘customers’ who buy guaranteed jobs from the platform on a monthly basis, essentially having to ‘pay to work’.

Apart from this monthly subscription, workers are made to pay GST on each job. They are required to purchase company-branded uniforms and bags costing around INR 2,000. Further, they must also buy all cleaning supplies relevant to their work from Urban Company at higher costs than those sold elsewhere (INR 10,000 per month or above). This is despite the fact that workers find these supplies to be of poor quality and thus hazardous to their safety.

The framing of Urban Company ‘partners’ as non-workers is inaccurate for a number of reasons. A majority of the housekeeping workers with whom we spoke were not previously employed in the services sector. Urban Company targeted their slum as part of its recruitment drives in 2018. Knowing that their cleaning and housekeeping services vertical faced a deficit of labour supply despite a perceived spike in demand in Bengaluru, Urban Company aggressively onboarded men from this slum to undergo their training programme and join the company as cleaning and housekeeping ‘professionals’. How, then, is Urban Company merely a platform from which pre-existing workers gain business, and not an employer hiring labour with particular skills for its supply chain?

Click to download the full essay


Author: Nihira Ram
Images: All India Gig Workers’ Union (AIGWU)
Design: Annushka Jaliwala
Copy edit: The Clean Copy

About the All India Gig Workers’ Union

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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