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India's Gig Economy to Expand to 2.35 Crore Workers by 2029-30: Niti Aayog

In its latest report, the government think-tank has recommended measures for platforms and the gig economy. Experts highlight that these recommendations do not sufficiently address workers' issues.

New Delhi: In its latest report, "India's booming Platform and Gig economy", the government think-tank Niti Aayog has made some observations on labour force participation and made recommendations to the platform-based companies.

It is estimated that workers engaged in the gig economy will grow from 77 lakhs in 2020-21 to 2.35 crore in 2029-30. Further observations show that about 47% of the gig work is in medium-skilled jobs, 22% in high-skilled jobs, and 31% in low-skilled jobs.

Considering these estimates, Niti Aayog has recommended some measures for platform-based companies. It has proposed fiscal incentives, like tax breaks or startup grants, for companies with about one-third of their workforce as women and people with disabilities. This is in an attempt to increase the participation of women in the gig economy.

Niti Aayog has also recommended extending social security measures such as paid sick leaves, health access and insurance, occupational disease and work accident insurance, retirement/pension plans and other contingency benefits. It has also suggested that platform-based companies support workers when work is irregular.

Shaik Salauddin, General Secretary of IFAT (Indian Federation of App-based Transport Workers), told NewsClick, "Niti Aayog should have also discussed the issues of these gig workers with the unions to land at a better solution. It is good that Niti Aayog has addressed some important social security measures such as paid sick leaves, health access, insurance, etc. Still, they have not provided any mechanism or solutions for implementing such schemes."

He added, "The government should hold meetings and discussions with the unions, as they have a better understanding of all problems that gig workers face daily."

Kaveri Medappa Kaliyanda, a researcher from the University of Sussex, UK, said that it is worrying that Niti Aayog didn't consult with workers' representatives while framing public policies for them.

"If they really cared about platform workers and wanted to prepare for the growth of platform-based work, they would have started by listening to workers and unions to understand the actual realities of work," Kaliyanda said.

She added, "People work for dangerously long hours to meet targets and incentives, especially because these businesses keep cutting rates/incentives as and when they wish. Is there any protection against that? Workers have been crying hoarse from 2017, alerting us to how commissions and fees keep increasing and rates/incentives keep being slashed. And yet, the report remains completely silent on this."

Even though platform companies provide employment, the workers often face difficulties such as low wages, unequal gender participation and a lack of possibility for upward mobility within an organisation.

Rikta Krishnaswamy from AIGWU (All India Gig Workers Union) told NewsClick, "The report does not recognise the difference between actual gig work and where gig work is used to disguise an employment relationship to avoid providing employee protections. It continues to treat gig work as a valid new form of work without analysing how it is used to circumvent labour protections and make livelihoods more precarious. The report has no recommendations on creating mechanisms to ensure gig workers are fairly paid and have dignified working conditions (per labour laws), which is the most critical issue facing them."

She added, "The report does not speak about or recommend the creation of accessible, reliable and fair mechanisms in place to address workers' grievances. The report envisages that skilling may happen on the platform, and workers are awarded 'skill badges' on the platforms. This does not address existing issues of workers being rated unfairly or how it might increase the degree of power platforms hold over their workers. Platform-led models of skilling and job creation are another way to funnel public funds for skills and employment programmes into the pockets of platform companies."

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