Dissecting India’s Gig Economy

Remember how our economics textbooks used to talk about India’s cheap labour being the feature that made our country an appealing location for investment when we were in school? It’s remarkable how no one ever complains about how Indian labour is treated by the very organisations who rely on their employees’ efforts to survive.

With 136 crore people vying for the same job, employers are given power, allowing them to determine who does what, when, and how. Zomato is one such offender that has lately made the rounds on news outlets. Zomato’s business strategy is straightforward: when a client makes an order on the app, the nearest delivery executive is alerted; he then brings the steaming food to the customers and receives money for the transaction. This money is subsequently transferred to the business. While we enjoy the cuisine and Zomato amasses wealth, the delivery person lives on the breadline. They offer delivery partners a base salary of Rs 20-25 per hour and incentive compensation based on performance. These target-based incentives serve no use. Despite being encouraged to check in for several hours each day, their efforts do not result in large earnings. In an interview with Entrackr, a Zomato delivery executive discusses his experience working for the firm. Spending time with his two-year-old kid is a trade-off for him between family time and money that can feed his family for the month. Even if he makes the more difficult option to work overnight, Zomato’s algorithm thwarts his intentions. The plastic box attachment shown on the motorcycles costs Rs 4,000. This money is taken from the delivery partners’ earnings and repaid in monthly instalments. For those who do not pay the money to obtain the plastic box, he feels the app’s algorithm restricts their order limit. The onus is on Zomato as a firm to ensure optimum consumer satisfaction in terms of delivery operations, yet they simply transfer the load on to their delivery partners.

Indians have acknowledged the concerns of those who suffer in silence via their ongoing traditions. Zomato, the leading meal ordering and delivery service, has been chastised for new advertisements depicting delivery executives rushing for time between orders. It even compels them to decline a picture or a birthday cake from their favourite actor.

Moving on, Ola is another business that is neck and neck with Zomato in this regard. Ola discovered a pain area for Indian consumers: transportation. They were fast to recognise the gravity of the situation and take appropriate action. Ola’s business model is basically identical to Zomato’s. Ola has driver partners that help them keep their business running. At the beginning of their journey, attracting enough people to partner with Ola as cab drivers was critical to fueling their first leg. To accomplish this, the Ola commission model was structured in such a way that cab drivers may make up to Rs 70,000 per month. This appeared to be an extraordinary money-making potential, so individuals from all walks of life eventually began to explore the area. What they didn’t realise was that Ola’s enormous success in India would come with unparalleled authority to influence commissions in order to maximise their own earnings. And that is exactly what Ola did. When you visit Ola’s website to register as a taxi partner, the following features will appear:
Flexible working hours
Daily secured payments
0% commission for 6 weeks from launch
Know your destination before accepting

All of the characteristics seem extremely appealing until you learn the reality. Sure, they provide flexible working hours, but at the expense of your little monthly salary. Sure, they provide you daily secured payments, but they are insufficient to cover two meals a day. Sure, there is no commission for the first six weeks, but on the 43rd day, prepare to give up 30% of your earnings. Finally, their promise of informing drivers of their location may not be fully accurate. Drivers don’t know where they’re going until they accept a trip and contact the passenger. It is fairly usual for drivers to cancel at the last minute since a long distance travel will cost them significantly more gasoline than a short distance excursion. Cab drivers are forced to pick between a Rs 500 journey that requires Rs 250 in gasoline and a Rs 200 journey that requires Rs 75 in fuel. Almost all of us might be held accountable for our role in criticising them for selecting a path that leaves more money for their family’s sustenance.

Employee connections that have been estranged is a company-specific problem. How top management or middle management wishes to handle their workers/employees is solely determined by their beliefs and the values of their company. If Zomato places more emphasis on the figures it publishes in its yearly reports, there is only so much we can do as individuals to modify their opinions. We can’t train them to be more sympathetic if Ola pushes its cab drivers to work for longer hours, leaving little space for them to upskill. The issue arises from the duopoly that each of the aforementioned organisations are members of. Zomato/Swiggy and Ola/Uber have established themselves in India in such a way that they can no longer be contested. Even large corporations like Amazon, who are dabbling with cloud kitchens, have failed to break through. Recognizing the power they have gained in the country and in the lives of Indian customers, these organisations are progressively dismissing the emotional and economic worries of the same people who make their company profitable.

We are still a long way from an effective solution to this problem, but as the supply of blue collar gig workers increases, we must accept two consequences: 1. a transition from an unorganised sector with no pay to a higher economic standing, and 2. deplorable working conditions for the gig workers. Waiting for businesses to undertake some self-reflection and take corrective action is a dream. We, as a community, must find answers to these issues. If we could completely outsource gig worker employment generation to companies specifically set up for this purpose and encourage all workers to seek jobs through these platforms, even companies with $13 billion in market capitalisation would be forced to outsource gig worker employment generation to companies working to create a holistic work culture for the gig workers. We must strive toward a more regulated labour market, with a focus on raising awareness within the gig worker community about the influence they have in the firms for which they work.

And if at all this article inspires you to help our gig workers, the next time you order from Zomato, spend a few minutes chatting with the delivery executive just to ask about his day, the next time you order a cab, make sure you give them a 5-star rating, and the next time you judge someone for being careless on the job, take a moment to stand in their shoes and walk around in them.

– Janvi Gupta

Picture Credits: PTI

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