India is likely to see its gig workforce add 9-11 million jobs by 2025, which has been one of the most pivotal economic shifts in a long time

When it comes to fair work for gig workers among the digital platform economy in India, Zomato, Swiggy, and quick-grocery delivery providers Dunzo and Zepto are among the worst performers across parameters related to the working conditions of gig workers, according to the latest ‘Fairwork India Ratings 2022 Report

New Delhi:

With a spurt in online food and grocery delivery, especially in the pandemic years, India saw a meteoric rise in the gig economy, giving millions of people job opportunities.

However, delivering hot and piping food at customers’ doorsteps has become a nightmare for many of them as the food delivery business turns out to be a losing game while more and more delivery partners report unfair work conditions, pay disparity, and harassment.

India is likely to see its gig workforce add 9-11 million jobs by 2025, which has been one of the most pivotal economic shifts in a long time.

In terms of job roles, door delivery is the most prevalent gig role employers are hiring for currently — 22 per cent for food and 26 per cent for other deliveries, according to a recent study by leading job portal Indeed.

According to reports, a typical delivery boy’s salary is Rs 15,000 per month. Delivery Boy salaries at Zomato and Swiggy can range from Rs 4,804-Rs 30,555 per month depending on which area they are working in.

Gig workers are freelancers or contractors who work independently, typically on a short-term basis for multiple clients. Their work may be project-based, hourly, or part-time.

However, when it comes to fair work for gig workers among the digital platform economy in India, Zomato, Swiggy, and quick-grocery delivery providers Dunzo and Zepto are among the worst performers across parameters related to the working conditions of gig workers, according to the latest ‘Fairwork India Ratings 2022 Report’.

According to professor Balaji Parthasarathy, one of the principal investigators of the team, these findings are alarming for all stakeholders — government, consumers and platform owners — and they should come together to help gig workers get the best working conditions.

“We would like the government and other stakeholders like consumers and digital labour platform owners to take note of these findings and ensure a better work environment for millions of gig workers in 2023,” Parthasarathy said.

The Fairwork India team was spearheaded by the Centre for IT and Public Policy (CITAPP), International Institute of Information Technology Bangalore (IIIT-B), in association with Oxford University in the UK.

Even with workers and worker groups repeatedly emphasising the importance of a stable income for platform workers, platforms have been reluctant to publicly commit to, and operationalise, a minimum wage policy.

“Secondly, while workers have engaged in various forms of collective action to voice their concerns in the platform economy, platforms have been uncompromisingly unwilling to recognise or negotiate with any collective body representing workers,” the findings showed.

According to the report, the promise of flexibility of the digital platform economy raises as many questions about livelihoods as it offers opportunities.

“We hope the report provides the basis for an interpretation of flexibility that allows for not merely the adaptability that platforms seek, but also the income and social security that workers lack,” said Parthasarathy and Janaki Srinivasan, the Principal Investigators of the team.

The biggest barriers for gig workers are lack of access to job information (62 per cent), not knowing English (32 per cent), and not knowing the local language (10 per cent) for workers who have shifted outside of their home town for work.

Challenges in language also result in other difficulties with 14 per cent of the gig workforce respondents reporting a lack of awareness of their jobs’ skills and abilities, according to Indeed study.

Nearly three out of five gig workers (59 per cent) find their jobs uncomfortable (46 per cent), if not hard and risky (13 per cent).

Owing to their tough workstyle, delivery boys often face a lot of stress, which can affect their mental health.

“Uncertainties of day to day life, life risks, long time periods, financial stress. It certainly impacts mental health. As a result they may engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms like consuming substances or other desperate measures to manage stress,” Mimansa Singh Tanwar, Clinical Psychologist, at Fortis Hospital, told IANS.

“To maintain positive mental health for them, it is important to improve the manager employee relationship where they practise values of empathy, integrity, gratitude and positive encouragement towards them,” she added.

Tanwar suggested that the delivery boys should be incorporated in the employee wellness programmes, and since there is also a connection between money and mental health, financial aids should also be there to support them.

Delivery boys should “focus on what they can control and engage in healthy stress mechanisms like building good support systems through positive family and peer relationships, and avoid engaging in unhealthy consumption of substances,” she noted.

In the movie ‘Zwigato’, helmed by Nandita Das, ace comedian and actor Kapil Sharma plays the role of a delivery boy, and showcases their struggles. Kapil shared that the character made him realise how tough life is for delivery boys, and that he has become more empathetic towards them.

“This movie made me realise the challenges that delivery boys face on a daily basis, and I have learned to appreciate their hard work and dedication even more. I am not saying tip them, but I am just saying that we can at least say a thank you with respect and that will make them happy,” Kapil said.

The government has also cracked a whip on online food aggregators in the recent past.

As more and more reports surface about the unfair work and pay conditions delivery boys (online food and grocery delivery platforms call them partners) are facing, top online food aggregators said they are working hard to provide them with healthy, safe working conditions and be there in their times of need.

Meanwhile, several food companies have started several initiatives for its workers. Food delivery platform Zomato recently launched ‘the Shelter Project’ under which the company has set up public resting points where delivery persons can take a break from their exhausting routine and use amenities like the washroom, internet, and phone-charging stations.

In August 2020, Zomato also introduced period leaves of 10 days in a year for its women employees (including transgender people).

Swiggy has rolled out ambulance service for delivery executives and their dependents in the case of emergencies.

Swiggy told IANS that it is enabling a consistent earning and upskilling opportunity for over 3,00,000 delivery executives across the country, apart from a healthy and safe work environment.

“This includes but is not limited to accident death cover, medical insurance, bereavement leave, mental wellness, and on-call doctor support. Numerous additional safety and well-being measures have also been added such as the SOS button and emergency services, income support during accident recovery, paid period time off, maternity leave, free and fast, on-demand ambulance service and enhanced hospitalisation,” the Swiggy spokesperson elaborated.

The online food delivery platform in September last year announced a skill initiative to offer free learning opportunities to thousands of delivery executives and their children.

Swiggy partnered with Khan Academy, a non-profit educational organisation to provide courses and certifications via its ‘Skills Academy’.

“Delivery partners are our backbone and while they may join with the intention of making this a gig, several have gone on to stay for years and some have even joined Swiggy as full-time employees as part of our Step Ahead programme,” said the food delivery company.

Zomato said that road safety is a top-of-mind concern and they have instituted a full track of activities to bring down accident rates with its delivery operations.

It includes mandatory road safety awareness campaigns as part of delivery partner onboarding process; identification of high-risk zones and re-routing delivery partners from such zones; delivery partners not informed of the expected time of arrival of orders conveyed to the customers and delivery partners provided with free medical, health and accidental insurance benefits.

“We have a 24X7 dedicated online emergency support including ‘Buddy Delivery Partner’ initiative for police/ambulance assistance in case of emergency,” according to the company.

Last month, Zomato Founder and CEO Deepinder Goyal announced the company is building public infrastructure to support the entire gig economy and delivery partners of various companies.

Called ‘The Shelter Project’, the initiative will help delivery partners rest at those points that will offer clean drinking water, phone-charging stations, access to washrooms, high-speed internet, a 24X7 helpdesk and first-aid support.

“We recognise that delivery partners face multiple challenges while on the job, from navigating through traffic to delivering orders in inclement weather conditions,” said Goyal.

“We believe that by providing a space for all delivery partners to rest, recharge, and take a moment for themselves, we can create a better environment that promotes their physical and mental health,” he added.

The company currently has more than 3 lakh delivery partners across the country.

Online food platform Zomato’s consolidated loss widened to Rs 346.6 crore (year-on-year) for the quarter ended December 31, against a loss of Rs 63 crore in the same period last year.

Last year, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) ordered a thorough investigation into the conduct of online food delivery platforms Zomato and Swiggy over alleged involvement in delayed payment cycle and exorbitant commissions.

Following a complaint from the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI), the CCI said that it is of the view that there exists a prima facie case with respect to some of the conduct of Zomato and Swiggy, “which requires an investigation by the Director General (DG), to determine whether the conduct of platforms have resulted in contravention of the provisions”.

The NRAI had alleged that the commissions that are charged from restaurants are “unviable” and “are to the tune of 20 per cent to 30 per cent, which are extremely exorbitant”.

The Department of Consumer Affairs also asked online food business operators to improve their consumer grievance redressal mechanism amid rising complaints from customers.

The Delhi High Court last month postponed the hearing on petitions to April 12, filed by restaurant associations contesting the rules that forbid hotels and restaurants from automatically adding a service charge to meal bills.

The Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA), under the Department of Consumer Affairs, released the rules last year, and the high court stayed them.

The CCPA has sought dismissal of pleas and said in its affidavit that the petitioners have totally failed to appreciate the rights of the consumers by adopting an unfair method, which is unlawful as no service is separately provided to consumers.