Even in the best of the times, the gig economy workers – delivery personnel, drivers, and others – were getting the short end of the stick. Now, in the pandemic-marked season, making ends meet is an even greater challenge to them.
The workers, who still remain in the legal grey zone, aver that the gig companies have clandestinely resorted to incentive-cutting mechanisms and other schemes to compensate for the revenue losses during the two-and-a-half-month lockdown period; even as the same app-based ‘partners’ are being showered with praise on social media.
This is in addition to the mass layoffs in the wake of the virus-triggered lockdown that has already spurred a bloodbath within the country's tech sector.
Such high regard for labouring amidst a pandemic have brought little solace to Ravi Kashyap, a partner with food-delivery unicorn Zomato, at a time when his income is further dwindling.
“The company has drastically cut the incentives on delivering the orders. As a result of which, my daily earnings – which were hardly ever more than Rs. 800 earlier – have been halved now,” said the 33-year old, who remains active for food delivery in South Delhi’s localities.
The fine points of the delivery incentives, that constitute a major source of income, which Kashyap further explained, shed light over the precariousness that grips him and other such gig workers.
Upon completing a delivery – within 5 km radius – a rider would make Rs. 25 on each order. In addition, earlier arrangements would also earn him an incentive; Rs. 250 for every 13 orders in a day, Rs. 400 for every 17 orders and up to Rs. 600 for every 22 to 24 orders.
According to Kashyap, since the first week of June, the daily incentives have been cut for him altogether. Now he is being paid Rs. 5 for every 1 km he rides – in delivering the order – and around Rs. 60 as an additional amount for every Rs. 300 that he makes – which translates to a daily earning of not more than Rs. 300-400, according to him, after remaining active for 15 hours.
The situation is not much different in other food, essentials delivery companies, where riders are faced with cuts in their incentives in the recent months, Kashyap alleged.
Shaik Salauddin, national general secretary of Indian Federation of App-based Transport Workers, confirmed the same. The plight of the app-based workers is pan-India and touches all such firms – including the ride-hailing companies, he told NewsClick.
“These are the workers to whom dreams of sustainable monthly incomes were sold to. They left their petty works, migrated from rural to urban cities, in hope of securing a better life. And, now they are being left in the lurch with companies taking no responsibility for them,” Salauddin said.
Most of these workers – who have migrated to urban cities – cannot even go back home as they are reeling under the pressure of repaying their debts, that they must have taken to be associated with the tech company, he added.
Salauddin rues that the much-touted charity campaigns are nothing but a “stunt” to appeal to the public at large with little benefits for a vast number of gig-workers. Among the companies that have started charity campaigns are Zomato, Swiggy, Ola, and Uber.
Swiggy and Zomato plan to raise Rs 10 crore each for each of their 2.5 lakh workers, while Ola plans to raise Rs 40 crore for its 15 lakh drivers, and Uber aims to raise Rs 50 crore for approximately 15 lakh drivers, Scroll reported.
“The companies are raising money from the people, however, not all drivers have received any relief yet,” Salauddin told Newsclick.
In a shocking revelation, he further alleged that Ola has gone to the extent of demanding the return of the relief amount credited into the accounts of its driver partners. “Repayments start 45 days after you [driver] get your 1st transfer,” said one of the screenshots of drivers’ Ola App, accessed by NewsClick.
Newsclick tried reaching Zomato and Ola through email to get their response on the allegations that have been levelled against them. This copy will be updated, if and when the companies revert.
Taking note of the gig workers’ plight, the app-based workers’ body had staged a protest a week earlier which saw thousands of workers associated with Zomato, Swiggy, Ola, Uber, and Dunzo among others, taking part in it across the country. It was demanded that the government “advise app-based companies to provide health insurance coverage to all its drivers”.
The workers have to potentially expose themselves to the virus and put themselves and their families at the risk of getting infected. These workers must be protected by the government, Saluddin added.
However, not all of them are taking that risk, one among whom is Narendra Kumar, 40, in Delhi who used to be a driver partner with ride-hailing companies Ola and Uber. “There isn’t enough business left. The commissions are high and it is difficult to make any profit at the end of the day,” he said, adding that there are risks of contracting the COVID-19 disease too.
For people like Kumar, the ‘hopes’ that got them to enter the gig economy are shattered. Their savings are on the verge of exhaustion now and looking for another job is the only option. “I am learning how to service electrical appliances – AC, refrigerator – through youtube,” he said, hoping that it will help him tide over during the difficult times.