Zomato Delivery Agents Launch Indefinite Strike in Thiruvananthapuram
Image Courtesy: Firstpost
Thiruvananthapuram: Online food delivery company Zomato's distribution agents in Thiruvananthapuram have started an indefinite strike demanding fair wages and employee benefits. The delivery agents of India's 'largest food aggregator' blame the company's new reforms for slashing down on employee benefits. As the fuel prices go uphill, the delivery agents get scanty benefits despite working for more than 12 hours and riding more than 180 km a day.
A section of the delivery agents started an indefinite strike, going offline from Friday. On Saturday, the agents on strike met Kerala Labour Minister V Sivankutty and submitted a memorandum. The minister assured government intervention after consulting with the Labour Commissioner. The delivery agents have also submitted a memorandum to Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
AGENTS BLAME NEWLY INTRODUCED ‘GIGS’ SYSTEM
The food delivery company introduced a new 'GIGS' system of work arrangement in January 2022. Delivery agents say, initially, the company gave attractive remunerations to make more of them sign up for the new system. But when a significant section of them shifted to the new system, the cut down on their benefits was unleashed.
“Currently, even if we work for 15 hours continuously, riding around 200 km, after all the expenses, including fuel charge, is less than Rs 400 per day. This is 75% less than the previous year,” says Hareesh (name changed), a delivery agent with Zomato.
“Earlier, we used to get Rs 25 for every delivery within 5 km and Rs 5 per km beyond that. With the new system in place, we are not paid for pick-ups but only for deliveries. This means if I ride 8 km from my current location to the restaurant to pick up an order, and then deliver it 2 km away, I get paid only for the latter,” he added.
‘GIGS’ is a new time slot booking system introduced by Zomato. Gig refers to a time slot. As per the new system, the delivery agents are asked to book more 'gigs' to earn more. Those who book more gigs get a higher priority in receiving orders. With the new system, the company pushes the 'delivery partners' into a full-time commitment, without acknowledging them as 'employees'. The terms and conditions that the delivery agents are obliged to accept, has been drafted carefully to deny them social security covers and insurance, especially for accidents while on duty. The terms and conditions also allow the company to make amendments without any prior notice to the delivery agents.
Sivaraman (name changed), another Zomato delivery agent, who has been working with various food delivery apps for six years, told NewsClick that there was no clarity in the new work arrangement agreement offered by the company. It lacks specific details on the basic remuneration and incentives offered to the 'delivery partners'. Not willing to shift to the new GIGS system, Sivaraman still works with Zomato per the old rate-card system. “They call us 'delivery partners', but they charge us even for the Zomato T-shirt and our bags during work. Neither do we get basic employee benefits,” he says.
Sivaraman added that “The only contact we have with the company is the Zomato Team Leader. He never attends our calls whenever we raise such concerns. Instead, the team leader insists that we work even more to benefit. In addition to that, they have been threatening us with dismissal, blocking the account, and filing police cases. The company officials have approached many delivery agents to file police complaints against those on strike, on bogus charges of maltreating them. We only tried to talk to them and convince them to join the strike.”
DUOPOLY IN FOOD DELIVERY
Since Zomato acquired Uber Eats in 2020, Zomato and Swiggy constitute the duopoly in online food delivery in the country. The exploitation of food delivery agents has very few differences across the two platforms. The Swiggy employees' strike launched from Chennai in August 2020, opposing the company's payment policy, had spread to other cities like Hyderabad and Delhi as well.
Apart from the meagre remunerations, a common concern of the food delivery agents on these two platforms has been the extreme working conditions. Neither the restaurants nor the aggregator companies provide a waiting area for the delivery agents during pick up or while they wait for orders. While the agents struggle to reach the customers with food on time, most of them are forced to eat the meals that they pack from home at a park or a bus waiting area. With the companies tightening the work schedule, many say they hardly get the time for a proper meal. Accidents are also common as they rush through the traffic to get on top of time. Harsh weather, hectic traffic, or even the pandemic did not defer the companies approach, let loose on timing, or provide proper incentives.
Delivery agents are not the only ones unhappy with the 'unhealthy operations' of the two major food aggregators. The National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) had approached the Competition Commission of India (CCI) in July 2021, raising the duopoly's 'inherently anti-competitive practices'.
TOWARDS COLLECTIVE EFFORTS
There are approximately 2,500 food delivery agents in Thiruvananthapuram for Zomato alone. When a section of them went on a strike from Friday, the food delivery app's operations were obstructed to a great extent on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Many delivery agents who went offline received calls from the team leader later, threatening them from participating in the strike. Ten agents were blocked from the online platform later. The company also started to employ outsourcing food deliveries to subjugate the struggle.
The protesting employees of Zomato have decided to form an organisation for delivery agents across all food delivery platforms. Their representatives have been in touch with trade union leaders regarding the issue.
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