Even as the economy shows signs of emerging out from the adverse impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is no respite in sight for the platform-based workers across the country.
This is what those engaged with the nation’s largest home services company had to say – their ordeal is not so dissimilar to what the app-based cab drivers and delivery executives, among others, have shared earlier in the past few months.
Hundreds of service professionals working as ‘expert beauticians’ with the Urban Company staged a protest on Friday at the Gurugram office of the firm. They highlighted that the persistent high commissions charged from them and the consequent dwindling incomes are making it difficult for many to make ends meet.
All being women, the protesters said that they would go on a city-wide strike in the days to come, in case their grievances are not addressed immediately. This would also include professionals working in other categories with the Urban Company abstaining from work. Clad in a black uniform with the company’s logo on the back, women gathered outside the Gurugram office of the firm and sloganeered throughout Friday afternoon, videos shared by Entrackr, which first reported on the demonstration, showed.
Launched in 2014 as UrbanClap, the home services platform, now Urban Company, claims to be Asia’s largest in its segment. With a fleet of thousands of trained professionals in countries including India, Australia, Singapore, the UAE and The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the platform offers home services related to salon, makeup, massages, grooming, cleaning, pest control, etc.
However, the professionals engaged with the service firm, as independent professionals, allege that the working conditions are extremely exploitative. The company charges commission as high as 30-35%, a woman, who partook in the demonstration on Friday, told Newsclick over the phone.
“This was not the case when we had joined the company. We would easily earn Rs. 45,000 to 60,000 then in a month. But now, even after accepting the service duties daily, the monthly incomes are as low as Rs. 20,000,” this beautician, who had joined Urban Company back in 2017, said.
The woman requested not to be named, fearing action by the firm against her. Urban Company has threatened to “block IDs” and “decrease the ratings” of other professionals in the past, she added.
Moreover, the woes of low monthly earnings are compounded by the fact that the professionals with Urban Company are not socially secured, while they are also not offered adequate safety to work by the firm, according to the protesting service professionals.
Another aggrieved woman who spoke to Newsclick on Saturday said, “The company did offer us health and accident insurance, but in most of the cases, the cost is incurred by the working professionals, and no reimbursements are paid.” This woman alleged that the Urban Company is “very insensitive” and “does not respond properly” towards the well-being of its service professionals.
Both women had also alleged that the service professionals engaged with the Urban Company are also not happy with the different kinds of penalties that the latter impose, often based on “flimsy reasons”.
“We know many women who had to seek medical assistance because they got depressed,” the first woman quoted above said. “The situation only got worse after the pandemic – all the products are now costly– which is another reason why we demand the company to slash its commission rates.” Incidentally, the Urban Company has mandated the expert beauticians associated with it to purchase beauty products from the service firm itself – often priced higher than the market – Entrackr reported on Friday, based on the allegations levelled by protesting women.
To be sure, high commissions and the resultant low income, along with poor working conditions, have been on the lips of app-based cab drivers and delivery executives for many months now – all collectively part of what is known as the 'gig economy'. Newsclick had earlier reported on the protest actions staged by 'partners' of food-delivery app Swiggy and those engaged with ride-hailing companies like Ola and Uber.
Notably, the service professionals engaged with the Urban Company, after coming together about five months back this year in a group of 40-50, have been trying to raise their grievances to the company officials in meetings, but, to no avail, Newsclick has learnt. The Urban Company was approached for comment over mail. Their response will be added as and when received.
Meanwhile, solidarity poured in for the protesting women from different corners after their protest videos surfaced on social media platforms. “We are in full support and solidarity with Urban Company women workers,” said Telangana-based Indian Federation of App-Based Transport Workers (IFAT) in a tweet.