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Urban Company Workers hit the Streets Against ID Blocking, Rating System

In response to the recent ID blockages and several other issues faced by the Urban company partners, hundreds of workers have resorted to protesting.

Delhi: The headquarters of UrbanCompany in Gurgaon witnessed a significant protest on Wednesday, as workers, referred to as "partners" by the company, gathered outside its office premises. UrbanCompany, previously known as UrbanClap, provides various services such as beauty, electrical work, cleaning work, and plumbing.

However, the company has been under scrutiny in recent years due to its constantly changing policies, which workers claim are detrimental to their rights and violate fundamental human rights. These policies provide excessive power to the consumers, leaving workers in a vulnerable position without any say in the rating system that dictates their employment, job prospects, and, ultimately, their livelihoods.

One of the contentious policies is the increased minimum rating requirement set by UrbanCompany, which now stands at 4.7 and even 4.85 out of 5 in specific categories. This rating was 4.5 previously. Workers who fail to achieve these high ratings have their IDs blocked. Once an ID is permanently blocked, workers are required to pay Rs. 50,000 to resume work on the platform, with the company citing onboarding and kit expenses as the reason for this fee.

This amount is separate from the commission that UrbanCompany earns, ranging from 20% to 40%, on every task performed by the workers. The workers' union alleges that the company terminates old workers and hires new ones to extract this substantial sum from them. The permanent blocking of IDs falls into the same category, where the company permanently blocks employees' IDs and asks them to rejoin the platform by paying this hefty amount.

Other allegations made by the workers include unreasonable expectations imposed on them, such as allowing only five job cancellations per month. Failure to comply with this rule results in permanent blocking from the platform. Additionally, workers claim that, even in emergencies, the category managers do not listen to their concerns.

One protester, a man in his early forties who had a negative experience with UrbanClap, joined the company as an electrician in 2015 during its early years in India. He highlights the company's initial flexible working hours, which benefited workers.

However, since the transition to UrbanCompany from Urbanclap, the policies have changed, he alleged.

"In the last two months, my ID has been blocked twice. The reason was that I had gotten 4* ratings consecutively in my two tasks. I also had to cancel two bookings due to my illness. As a result, my ID got blocked.  If the ID gets blocked, it takes the whole day and an additional process to unblock it. If it happens more than three times, we get permanently blocked from the company,” he adds.

Numerous other complaints regarding the company's anti-worker practices have been raised by the workers.

Issue of Ratings and Excessive Power to Customers:

The issue of ratings, which forms the basis of sustainable employment for UrbanCompany partners, reflects an imbalanced power dynamic. It exemplifies a phenomenon within the gig economy where customers hold immense power in determining a worker's employment.

The protesting workers are frustrated with the expectations of maintaining the highest productivity. To support this claim, one worker shared her experience with the policy of customer-dictated power, referring to UrbanCompany's rating on Glassdoor, a website that reviews employers based on work culture, salaries, and employee-friendly practices, which is only 3.7.

"If the company itself cannot maintain a 4.78 rating, then on what basis does it demand this from us? This expectation is cruel and has resulted in the unemployment of numerous employees within the company," she said.

New 70-hour Work Week:

Partners also voiced their concerns about the recent rule introduced by the company, which mandates their availability to work 10 hours per day, including Saturdays and Sundays. Reports indicate that most of the partners working with UrbanCompany are women, many of whom are single mothers. These women chose to join the organisation due to the time flexibility offered by freelancing jobs.

NewsClick interviewed a single mother in her late thirties who joined the company in 2015 during its early years. She said, "I joined UrbanCompany because my salon job did not allow me to manage my time with my newborn son. UrbanCompany provided me with an opportunity to earn while also taking care of my son. Now they want us to be available to work every day for 10 hours, and failure to comply comes with the threat of ID blocking,"

Invisible Management:

One of the workers' grievances pertains to what experts consider the "absence of employer accountability" in an app-based economy. Many workers have confessed that the company threatens them through phone calls when they fail to comply with its rules. However, when they visit the physical office, they encounter new faces each time, failing to resolve their issues. Partners do not know who is contacting them or whom to report their problems to since the only management they interact with is the app. There is no human interaction. Some partners reported that when they visited the office to resolve ID blocking issues, they were denied entry, with bouncers stationed outside the premises.

"I have been working as an electrician here for the last four years. In these four years, there have been 30 category managers. They hardly meet us, we just know their names. There is no relationship between the partners and UrbanCompany management. The only interaction we have is with the app, which fails to understand human problems," the worker said, wishing to remain anonymous.

Rikta Krishnaswamy, the coordinator of All India Gig Workers' Union's Delhi, an affiliate of CITU, was behind organising Wednesday’s protest. She placed these issues on the faultlines of app-based work, with UrbanCompany coming under the same category.

"It's not a transparent system. Workers only learn about ID blockage through app notifications, without receiving any calls or having meetings," Krishnaswamy told NewsClick

Regarding the movement, she emphasised the three demands put forward by the union to address these issues. "Permanent ID blocking should be completely stopped. If UC truly considers partners and customers as equal, it should cease this process of ID blocking and implement the changes demanded by the partners," she added.

Shaik Salauddin, Founding State President of the Telangana Gig and Platform Workers Union (TGPWU), has also expressed solidarity with UrbanCompany workers. The union recently wrote a letter to the labour commissioner of Telangana to address wage theft, illegal termination, and unfair labour practices experienced by UrbanCompany workers.

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