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Workers’ experiences in app-based taxi and delivery sectors: Key initial findings from multi-city quantitative surveys

Posted by Aayush Rathi, Abhishek Sekharan, Ambika Tandon, Chetna V. M., Chiara Furtado, and Nishkala Sekhar at Feb 15, 2024 10:40 PM |
In 2021-22, the labour research vertical at CIS conducted quantitative surveys with over 1,000 taxi and delivery workers employed in the app-based and offline sectors. The surveys covered key employment indicators, including earnings and working hours, initial investments and work-related cost burdens, income and social security, platform policies and management, and employment arrangements. The surveys were part of the ‘Labour Futures’ project supported by the Internet Society Foundation.

It has been over a decade since app-based delivery and taxi sectors began operations in India, and have since expanded to several metropolitan and smaller cities. These sectors together account for the largest proportion of the platform workforce in India. Workers’ collective action and demands have revealed extractive labour practices in the platform economy. However, there has been a dearth of reliable quantitative data on essential labour and economic wellbeing indicators for workers. In 2021-22, we conducted surveys with workers in the taxi and delivery sectors aiming to build an evidence base for worker-first policy-making in the platform economy. 1,048 workers were surveyed across four tier 1 and tier 2 cities—Delhi NCR, Mumbai, Lucknow, and Guwahati.

Research questions

  1. What is the nature and scale of platform operations in the delivery and taxi sectors within various tier 1 and tier 2 cities in India?
  2. What are the socio-economic contexts shaping workers’ decisions around transitioning in and out of the platform workforce in the delivery and taxi sectors?
  3. What are the tangible and intangible costs, and conditions of work that workers navigate to sustain their employment on delivery and taxi platforms?
  4. How does the assemblage of informal and formal structures, actors, and systems of work management shape economic outcomes for workers on delivery and taxi platforms?

Key initial findings

Diverse employment arrangements
There is a sizeable presence of heterogeneous work organisation systems on both app-based delivery and taxi sectors, which diverge from an on-demand model. These systems mediate multiple aspects of everyday work allocation and processes, spatio-temporal rhythms of work, platform design and management, modes of labour control, levels of reintermediation, and employment arrangements.

In the delivery sector, typologies are driven by platform models and work processes. Typologies of work organisation and control in the taxi sector, on the other hand, are centred around diverse employment arrangements and vehicle ownership models.

Socio-economic vulnerabilities impacting work outcomes
Workers in both the delivery and taxi sectors face a number of socioeconomic vulnerabilities that influence their entry and continued employment in platform work. Key motivating factors to enter platform work involved the lack of alternative employment opportunities (over 50 percent in both sectors) and the possibility of  better pay than other available jobs (over 40 percent in both sectors).

An overwhelming proportion of workers (over 95 percent in both sectors) were engaged in platform work as their main source of income, as opposed to part-time employment. Workers also faced significant economic burdens in various ways such as being sole earners in their household, having multiple financial dependents, providing remittances back home, and so on. Worsening these burdens was the widespread income insecurity that workers faced in both sectors—for around 50 percent of them, earnings from platform work were insufficient for covering basic household expenses.

Insufficient earnings and rising work-related expenses
Workers' experiences highlight how the majority of workers are forced to deal with low-wage outcomes, worsened by a reduction in bonuses, and high operational work-related expenses. Earnings remain low and uncertain for workers despite the fact that they put in long work hours. At the median level, workers on delivery platforms were working 70 hours a week, and those on taxi platforms were working an even higher 84 hours a week.

In addition to platform charges and commissions, numerous work-related expenses such as fuel and vehicle maintenance costs are important factors that determine take home earnings for workers. The median net earnings, after accounting for all these costs, were INR 3,800 for delivery workers, and INR 5,000 for taxi workers. When adjusted for standard weekly work hours (48 hours/week), these earnings do not meet national minimum wage standards.

Absence of occupational health measures and social protection
Workers in both delivery and taxi sectors are already working immensely long hours in order to try and make adequate earnings on the platform, sometimes working almost double the amount when compared to standard weekly work hours. They also faced additional occupational health and safety risks during their work. Workers in both sectors faced grievous risks during work hours including those relating to road safety (around 80 percent), weather conditions (around 40 percent; 52 percent for delivery workers), theft (around 30 percent), and physical assault (around 25 percent).

To make matters worse, workers were not provided adequate social protections to cope with workplace safety risks. Workers in the taxi sector had very low levels of access to crucial protections such as health insurance (6 percent) and accident insurance (28 percent). Access was relatively higher for workers in the delivery sector—32 percent had access to health insurance, and 62 percent had access to accident insurance. However, workers faced several barriers in receiving these benefits and protections, owing to burdensome and unreliable insurance claims processes.

Upcoming outputs
We hope that findings from these surveys are instrumental in speaking to extant and developing labour policy interventions, as well as adjacent policy areas including social protection, urban and infrastructural development, and sectoral regulation.

In the coming weeks, we will be publishing a series of city briefs for each of the four survey cities. These briefs will be presented as data visualisation narratives, showing how workers’ experiences with platforms vary across tier 1 and tier 2 cities.

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Aayush Rathi, Abhishek Sekharan, Ambika Tandon, Chetna V. M., Chiara Furtado, and Nishkala Sekhar