Delivery Workers Rope in West Bengal Govt to Plan Tripartite Meet
Representational Image. Image Courtesy: The Leaflet
Kolkata: West Bengal's delivery workers clinched a significant victory when they persuaded the state government to plan a tripartite meeting in the near future. For the nearly one lakh delivery workers in the state working for online platforms, any government intervention in this sector will be the first attempt in the country to restrain the exploitation faced by them.
Known as gig workers, they say they work more than 14 hours only to find their id blocked because of the slightest mistakes. A small error can earn them one or two-star ratings for no mistakes of their own. The errors are often driven by factors like police highhandedness or lack of a place to park bikes. When the gig workers get one or two-star ratings for such problems, the company blocks their id for over months, resulting in them virtually losing their job, they said.
A delivery boy called Gopal Halder said that even during the rainy season, a 10-minute delay gets two stars and results in the delivery ID being blocked.
In the food app major Zomato, if on a single day there are 13 deliveries over 500 rupees sale and 11-hour log in, the delivery person will have a payout of Rs 725. However, reaching the target is uncertain as, after the 10th order, the 11th, 12th or 13th orders get delayed, which results in many of the workers missing the target by a whisker and coming home with a meagre payout.
Earlier this month, the state's labour minister Becharam Manna met with the app-based delivery and temporary workers union to discuss the unruly behaviour of the app-based companies. The main concern raised by the workers is that their IDs are blocked for "frivolous" reasons and they are "forcibly sacked" from their jobs.
Upon hearing their concerns, the minister has agreed to hold a tripartite meeting in the near future to address their problems. In the meeting with the government, Sagnik Sengupta, Sudip Sengupta, Prasanta Ghosh and Soumyajit Rajak were present as members of the union.
A memorandum was also submitted to the labour minister on behalf of the union, wherein the demand for starting a social security net for the gig workers was also raised. There has been a manifold increase in the petrol prices, but the workers' commission has not increased to the level commensurate with the petrol prices, they complained to the minister. The union members have also requested a special parking zone in Kolkata for the delivery workers and to stop police harassment.
"Without mincing words, the apps decide the future of this uncertain workforce of the state who is a direct byproduct of laissez-faire neoliberal economy," says Soumyajit Rajak, president of the App-based Delivery and Temporary (Gig) Workers' Union in Kolkata. The more the curtailment of the regular workforce, the more and more workers are being forced to work in the gig economy, he added.
Sagnik Sengupta, general secretary of the union, detailed his experience building the union. "We have met more than a thousand of these workers, and all they sought is the right to unionise. It is amazing that not for a single time did we have to explain to them why it was important to unionise. Rather they requested us urgently to unionise them and begin the fight against their dreadful conditions. To bypass the labour law, they are given the titles of delivery partner while in reality they are worse off than the most exploited working section of the society."
Sengupta added that during the pandemic, these workers provided service without looking for their own welfare, and the companies earned a considerable profit. Still, the payout for the workers per delivery has lessened from Rs 35 to Rs 15-20 per delivery. "Still they are called delivery partners," Sengupta said.
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