Fairwork India, represented by Co-Investigator Prof Janaki Srinivasan, recently contributed to a two-day event on issues pertaining to gig workers. Hosted in Jaipur, Rajasthan on 23 and 24 January, the consultation was organised by the Rajasthan App Adharit Shramik Union (Rajasthan App-based worker union), the Indian Federation of App Based Transport Workers (IFAT), the Soochna Evum Rozgar Abhiyan (Campaign for Information and Employment Rights), and the Social Accountability Forum for Action and Research (SAFAR). In addition to worker representatives from different parts of Rajasthan, the consultation brought together organisations and individuals from various parts of India who work on labour rights and advocate for a legal framework of social security for platform-based gig workers.
The consultation was prompted by a public assurance by the Chief Minister of Rajasthan, Shri Ashok Gehlot, earlier in 2023 that the Rajasthan Government would introduce a policy measure to ensure the social security of gig workers in Rajasthan. The organisers of the consultation had been instrumental in bringing the plight of gig workers to the Chief Minister and were now seeking inputs on their proposal. At the consultation on 23 January, they outlined their efforts and sought inputs on key elements of the legal framework, such as the establishment of a Tripartite Board, the collection of transaction-based levies, and the setup of a centralized tracking and management system for all financial transactions on the aggregator’s digital platform. They were followed by activists who had campaigned for a legislation to create a welfare board for headloaders in the state of Maharashtra. The organisers pointed out that the gig worker legislation they were proposing had built on ideas and takeaways from the headloaders’ struggles and the resultant Mathadi (Headloaders) Act in Maharashtra. Given that gig work is often portrayed as a disruptive and unprecedented form of work posing novel challenges for regulators, reflecting on its continuities with earlier campaigns for workers’ rights and the challenges they had worked through—the absence of an employer-employee relationship and the piecework model, for instance—provided a refreshing perspective on the issue.
The consultation was followed on 24 January by a public meeting where app-based workers from Uber, Ola, Porter, Swiggy, Zomato and others spoke about their everyday challenges as gig workers – abusive customers, accidents, EMIs they could not keep up with, unreasonably long hours, and more. These participants were notably foregoing work to attend the meeting. Several researchers and representatives spoke of their projects and other initiatives in the realm of advancing gig workers’ rights. Prof Srinivasan briefly described the Fairwork Principles, the work of Fairwork India over the past four years, and distributed copies of the reports. Together with the campaign organisers, workers placed their four demands related to social security in front of the ministers and senior bureaucrats who chaired the session.
A few days later, in his budget speech in early February, the Chief Minister did announce a welfare fund for gig workers—with a seed funding from the state of Rs. 2000 million—and promised that legislation pertaining to gig workers would be drafted soon.
The Rajasthan IT Day, held 19-21 March 2023 in Jaipur, continued the state’s focus on the conditions of gig workers by including a session on the issues surrounding their work in a parallel track of workshops by civil society organisations. While the IT Day aimed “to bring together youth, startups, investors, corporates, partners and academia” (with 50,000 people expected to attend), its CSO track highlighted concerns around digitalisation and digital rights. Prof Srinivasan was present at the gig workers’ session, providing information on resources available to organisers and workers. Along with sharing copies of the Fairwork India Ratings 2022 report and briefly explaining our work, the session granted her an opportunity to listen to the challenges of gig workers (from Uber, Ola, Porter, Swiggy, Ola and a few from Urban Company) in Jaipur. In addition to typical concerns around wages, long working hours and the difficulty of reaching out to platforms, workers also highlighted concerns about the lack of transparency in algorithm-governed work allocation and hours lost due to internet shutdowns, in which Rajasthan leads the country (India leads the world in numbers of internet shutdowns for the past several years). Platform workers have not been compensated for income lost during such shutdowns.
Both these engagements in Rajasthan provided a great opportunity to bring Fairwork’s research and reports to new audiences. It was an opportunity to meet with activists, researchers, lawyers, and gig workers’ groups to discuss strategy and corroborate goals and demands. Further, the draft legislation and its explicit linkages with earlier worker struggles served to remind us that alternatives and change were possible!