Annual Report on Digital Labour Platforms Shows Worker Pay Is Largely Below Living Wage

Fairwork India has released its 5th annual study, focusing on the discrimination and alienation felt by platform workers.

New Delhi: Zero of the 12 digital labour platforms evaluated in the Fairwork India 2023 report showed evidence of providing their workers with a living wage. Only three of the 12 — bigbasket, Flipkart and Urban Company — ensured the local minimum wage after work-related costs. 

The report also found no platform to ensure fair representation for their workers, meaning platforms did not provide a process through which workers could express their voices collectively, such as through recognised trade unions or collective bodies.

“Representation through a collective body or trade union is a vital dimension of fairness at work,” Fairwork said. “It is disconcerting that despite the rise in platform worker collectivisation across the country, over the past four years, there was insufficient evidence from any platform that showed a willingness to recognise a collective body of workers.”

Fairwork evaluated the working conditions of gig workers at Amazon Flex, bigbasket, BluSmart, Dunzo, Flipkart, Ola, Porter, Swiggy, Uber, Urban Company, Zepto and Zomato using five principles: fair pay, fair conditions, fair contracts, fair management and fair representation. 

After desk research and 359 worker interviews across Bengaluru, Delhi, Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram, platforms were graded on a 10-point scale. Under each principle, companies could receive two points. This year, no platform scored higher than six points.

Under fair conditions, 10 platforms received the first point for “providing adequate safety equipment and periodic safety training to their workers.” A second point was given to five platforms for providing workers with accident insurance coverage at no additional cost, compensating workers for income lost due to medical leave and for ensuring that workers’ standing was not negatively affected after returning to work.

Under fair contracts, seven platforms — bigbasket, BluSmart, Dunzo, Swiggy, Urban Company, Zepto and Zomato — were awarded the first point for ensuring their contracts were accessible and comprehensible, and for having a protocol for data protection and management. Five met the requirements for the second point that required more transparent and clarifying language in worker contracts.

Under fair management, Amazon Flex, bigbasket, BluSmart, Flipkart, Swiggy, and Zomato were awarded the first point for providing due process in decisions affecting workers and maintaining channels for workers to appeal disciplinary actions. Only BluSmart and Swiggy received a second point for regulating external audits to check for biases in how work is allocated among workers and for adopting anti-discrimination policies.

Each year, the report focuses on a different theme. This year, the theme was discrimination and alienation felt by platform workers. Fairwork said the lack of provisions in place for fair representation and workers’ inability to influence how platforms address collective issues has contributed to alienation or estrangement.

Fairwork stated that “this alienation is deeply intertwined with the discrimination that platform workers face due to social identities such as caste, class, gender, and religion.”

On a national scale, Fairwork said 2023 was a “milestone year for platform workers in India.” This year, the Rajasthan Platform Based Gig Workers (Registration and Welfare) Act, 2023 was passed, which regulates the engagement of platform-based gig workers and aims to provide them with social security and other benefits. The legislation came after years of platform workers organizing for their rights and raising claims with the State.

“While the rules for implementing the Rajasthan Act are yet to be framed, the act marks a turning point in providing social security to platform workers,” Fairwork said.

The Leaders’ Declaration at the G20 summit, held on September 9 and 10 in New Delhi, also called to ensure “adequate social protection and decent working conditions for gig and platform workers.”

“In a year that has seen the formulation of a significant regulation based on inputs from workers, we hope that highlighting the experiences of workers will point to the structural changes that platforms, consumers and the State alike will need to undertake if the platform economy is to offer its workers decent work,” said Professors Balaji Parthasarathy and Janaki Srinivasan, the principal investigators of the report.

In addition to interviewing workers, the Fairwork India 2023 report included a survey of 963 consumers across the 12 platforms to gauge consumer awareness of the working conditions of platform workers. Fairwork said in the largest cities surveyed, there was significant support for bringing change to working conditions in the platform economy.

“Consumers can use these scores to make informed decisions about which platforms to use,” Fairwork said. “These scores can serve as additional resources for collective worker bodies when they raise demands. We also hope that the findings of this report will provide regulators with a basis to formulate policies for the platform economy in consultation with other stakeholders, including workers, platforms and venture capitalists.”