Hyderabad: Food delivery company Swiggy has reportedly laid-off over 350 employees citing the pandemic, after removing over 1,100 employees earlier in May. While the food delivery sector is one among the worst-hit sectors due to the raging pandemic that resulted in massive indiscriminate layoffs, unions of workers under digital platforms are raising voices urging the government to ensure labour rights for gig workers.
In an official statement, Swiggy management called the latest layoff as a final realignment exercise, adding that “the past few months have reshaped our lives in an unprecedented manner.”
A second wave of layoffs has also been reported in another health and fitness start up Curefit which is also into food delivery business. In May, Curefit had laid off over 800 employees and Zomato had laid off over 600 employees during the lockdown period in the country.
“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, the layoffs of gig workers were done indiscriminately mainly due to the lack of a proper regulatory framework governing online platforms,” said Shaik Salauddin, National General Secretary of Indian Federation of App Based Transport Workers (IFAT). “Although Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly appealed to employers to not lay off during the pandemic, it appears that no one has heeded his words,” he said, adding that the states and central government must immediately bring in laws to ensure labour rights for gig workers.
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Presently, Indian laws do not define any labour rights for the workers in the gig economy where the majority of the workers are hired by online platforms through man power contractors or aggregators. But as per the controversial Code on Social Security Bill, 2019 introduced in Parliament in December last year, workers in the gig economy have been defined as gig workers and platform workers. Accordingly, gig workers refer to “workers outside of the traditional employer-employee relationship” and platform workers are “workers who access other organisations or individuals using online platforms and earn money by providing them with specific services.”
Central trade unions including Centre of Indian Trade Unions and All India Trade Union Congress have been opposing the codification of labour laws as ‘dilution of labour rights’ by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government .
Gig Workers Unionising and Protesting for Rights
On June 9 and 10, IFAT organised a strike in which thousands of app-based workers from Ola, Uber, Swiggy and Zomato participated across different parts of the country demanding the online platforms to revise their payment structures and provide safety equipment for protection from COVID-19. The gig workers also extended solidarity in the June 8 strike called by ten central trade unions.
For the last three years, there have been a large number of protests, many decentralised, by such workers demanding workers’ rights and against companies’ policies.
“Unions of gig workers across states are negotiating with trade unions to lead a united fight for the rights of the working class,” Salauddin told NewsClick. “It’s been over eight years that the online platforms started the new form of employment in India but these workers do not have any legal and social protections in the form of laws. There is a need to unionise gig workers across states to lead movements for claiming labour rights,” he said.