Gig Workers Strike As Labour Codes Languish

Skewed demand-supply ratio, little bargaining power and lack of legislative backing leave gig workers with one option—strike.

<div class="paragraphs"><p>A Blinkit dark store in Gurugram. (Photo: Rishabh Bhatnagar/BQ Prime)</p></div>
A Blinkit dark store in Gurugram. (Photo: Rishabh Bhatnagar/BQ Prime)

The promise of better social security benefits was made to India's gig workers, in what constitutes an over $1-billion economy, via the Code on Social Security, 2020. Three years later, the promise continues to be merely on paper.

Perhaps, that's why Blinkit's delivery executives used the only tool gig workers currently have to make their voices heard—strike.

But given the skewed demand-supply ratio of delivery workers, little bargaining power and lack of legislative backing, most returned to work and, in effect, agreed to a lower base pay.

Gig Economy—How Deep Is The Discontent?

The strike was prompted by Zomato Ltd.-owned Blinkit's decision to move from a fixed-fee model of Rs 25 per delivery to a hybrid structure—Rs 15 per delivery with some added incentives, depending on the distance travelled. Zomato has claimed that the strikes had no significant impact on its revenue.

The business-as-usual approach as a response to gig workers' strike underscores the need for immediate implementation of the new labour laws, especially since this workforce functions outside the conventional employer-employee relationship.

"One of the reasons for the delay is that the state governments are taking time to frame the rules under each of the Labour Codes," according to Pooja Ramchandani, partner at Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas and Co.

Delay has also been caused due to the agitation caused by certain unions, Ramchandani said.

Due to pushback by unions on certain employer-friendly provisions in the Labour Codes, there still seems to be a roadblock.
Pooja Ramchandani, partner, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas

The states continue to simultaneously legislate on this topic. Appropriate machinery and detailing are required, so that the new laws can be implemented properly, says Rachit Bahl, senior partner, AZB and Partners.

There seems to be logical reasoning for why the exercise is taking time. When new laws and concepts are being introduced, appropriate machinery and infrastructure needs to be put in place. Stakeholders also provide constant feedback to government agencies which needs to be considered.
Rachit Bahl, senior partner, AZB & Partners

As the gig economy awaits implementation of the new law, their rights seem bleak in the interim.

By its very nature, their structure of work is typically devoid of absolute supervision and control. But what can be counted on is the contract of engagement of these workers with their organisations, Ramchandani said.

Largely speaking, gig workers are not protected under the current labour and employment laws, but the nature of the benefits provided by the organisations engaging them could provide protections and better working conditions.
Pooja Ramchandani, Partner, Shardul Amarchand Mangaldas

While the gig workers do have the option of contracts to find a remedy and seek legal protection, they seldom have the resources required to negotiate contractual terms.

It leaves the workers at the mercy of how charitable the other contracting party feels towards them. But still, it is not coming as a matter of right or law, Bahl said.

This is the reason why countries have to specifically legislate to recognise the rights of gig workers.

Germany has the Temporary Employment Act, which has provisions for equal pay and equal treatment of gig workers. It has disclosure obligations for companies, requiring them to specifically inform workers if their work is of temporary nature. There are strict fines and sanctions in the range of 1,000 and 5,00,000 euros for breach of the act. Singapore has also implemented new rules that give ride-hailing and food-delivery workers benefits like insurance and pension.

This goes on to show that strikes, like the one at Blinkit, are likely to recur unless the government gives the gig economy its due by way of an effective implementation of the new law.