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Demand for Gig Workers’ Safety Grows as 10-Minute Delivery Promise Faces Bumpy Road

Ronak Chhabra |
Zomato, Swiggy, Blinkit, and Zepto, among others, must be held accountable for introducing “unsustainable” delivery models that put the lives of delivery workers on the road at risk, union leaders have demanded.
Demand to Ensure Gig Workers’ Safety Grows as 10-Minute Delivery Promise Faces Bumpy Road

Image Courtesy: TheLeaflet

New Delhi: The dalliance of online platforms with ultra-fast delivery promises is reportedly turning out to be a marketing gimmick. It underscores the need for a “robust regulatory framework”, ensuring basic rights and occupational safety of the gig workers, according to multiple union leaders.

Food-delivery companies, including Zomato and Swiggy, along with quick commerce startups such as Blinkit and Zepto, among others, must be held accountable for introducing “unsustainable” delivery models that put the lives of delivery workers on the road at risk, union leaders demanded on Tuesday, as concerns grow over the hazards of focusing too much on speed.

The ‘ten-minute delivery’ model became the talk of the town over the last few months, with major players operating within the food and grocery delivery ecosystem pledging instant arrival of orders at the doorstep. The trend was promoted by online platforms, even as their riders complained of being forced to drive faster with orders or getting penalised for late deliveries.

However, after a brief period, as the delivery timelines of many of the above-mentioned firms remain stretched, owing to multiple operational issues, “nobody is talking about 10-minute deliveries anymore,” Economic Times reported on Tuesday. Among others, the report cites a shortage of delivery workforce, rising fuel costs, and lack of appetite from investors to put money into such operations as the prime reasons that are affecting the services of online platforms.

As such, the report said, Zomato, Swiggy, Blinkit, and Zepto have now chosen to go easy on the controversial ultra-fast option of making deliveries. Some, among them, have stopped promoting fast deliveries; others have stopped highlighting delivery time altogether.

Trade unions and federations of gig workers, on the other hand, demand more answers from the food-delivery and quick commerce startups. The ten-minute delivery model only shows how little the online platforms think about the occupational safety of the riders, said Shaik Salauddin, national general secretary of the Indian Federation of App-based Transport Workers (IFAT), while speaking to Newsclick on Tuesday.

“As per our estimates, in the last two-three months, 10 to 15 riders lost their lives across the country as they were forced by these online companies to make deliveries within unrealistic deadlines,” Saluddin claimed, adding, “Now, when the companies are starting to face issues with their own ill-thought models, why are they not being held accountable for the deaths of delivery workers?”

Calling it a “marketing gimmick,” Spandan Pratyush of All India Gig Workers Union (AIGWU) also flayed the ten-minute delivery promise for being “unsustainable” and a “highly exploitative” model. “Despite the inherent logistical issues within the model itself, the workers have been pressurised to ride faster on roads, making them prone to break traffic rules, and in some cases, also to be in accidents,” he said.

Pratyush added that there is a growing need to introduce a “robust regulatory framework” for the gig-economy workers, of which riders of online firms form a considerable portion in the country. “It must provide not just social security to the gig workers, but also ensure them some basic rights and occupational safety,” he said.

To be sure, the yet-to-be implemented Code on Social Security, passed in 2020, does define the ‘gig workers’ and ‘platform workers’ for the first time, with an intent to bring them within the scope of the social security net. The Code includes provisions for collecting contributions from aggregators and constituting a National Social Security Board for Gig Workers and Platform Workers.

On Tuesday, Saluddin told Newsclick that even as the move to envisage a social security fund for gig workers was welcomed, the app-based workers’ federation also demanded minimum wages and collective bargaining rights for the app-based workforce in the country. He said as far as gig workers are concerned, they remain untouched by the four Labour Codes.

"In the coming days, we are planning to launch a campaign to raise these demands across the country,” he said.

Meanwhile, the AIGWU has also been pushing forward the demand to confer “employment rights” to the workforce of the gig economy. “The gig economy is designed in a manner that allows the online companies to neglect the concerns relating to labour. The ten-minute delivery model, as we can see, is only one example of how this arrangement can jeopardise the lives of the workers,” Pratyush of AIGWU said.

Among others, the AIGWU is also demanding the protection of gig workers against algorithmic manipulations, Pratyush said. There must be auditing of the algorithms used by the online platforms to ascertain safe working standards, he added.

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