The covid-19 pandemic has been a driving force in changing the job market in India with remote working turning into a norm for several industries and companies, has increased the number of gig workers in the countries.

A gig economy is that segment of workers, where the individual is employed on a flexible, temporary, and non-contractual basis. Gig work does not have a fixed definition and can be understood by looking at the nature of the work arrangement and its legal framework. Broadly, the gig economy can be classified into service-based, such as delivery agents or workers those to provide services through work-on-demand, and knowledge-based employment, such as semi to high-skill jobs like consultants or data scientists. Gigs can be found at all levels of an organization, from low-skill to high skills jobs.

The pandemic resulted in putting such gig workers on the frontlines providing services such as taxi drivers and food delivery agents. It is stated that India has the world’s largest gid economy with more than 50% of people being self-employed in tech-enabled gig work platforms like Ola, Uber, Zomato, Swiggy, Urban Company, etc.

Challenges for gig workers

The precarious nature of the gig economy, which once seemed to be an appealing idea, is now seen with various shortcomings like lack of healthcare benefits, financial stability, or job safety. Conditions of the gig workers are wretched, especially the lower end skill laborers facing problems of low wages/incomes, no social or job security and poor working environment. In the past few months, a lot of gig workers were seen protesting and raising their voices against the poor and helpless conditions they were forced to work in. In March last year, Amazon India’s ‘delivery partners’ declared a 24-hour strike in Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Pune, and Delhi protesting the new policy as per which they would be paid Rs10 for delivery for small packages and Rs.15 for deliveries through tempos. The gig workers contested that this would bring their monthly income down to Rs.10,000, if they don't deliver on time and as a result will have to do overtime.

Government Response

There have not been many changes in the Labour laws in India, but because of the pandemic, some states like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Gujrat went ahead and relaxed minimum wages, workers' safety, and working hours for the laborers. The term ‘gig worker’ is not defined in the present act, and such freelancing workers are recognized as ‘contract worker’, due to which they do not fall under the worker-employees benefits designated under the Act, such as access to minimum wages, overtime, compensation, leave policy, pension, provident fund, etc.

Code on Social Security 2020 was introduced to protect the rights and dignity of the gig workers in India. The Code contains nine new regulations which enhance coverage and expand benefits to the gig workers in all organized and unorganized sectors. The Code also recommends setting up a Welfare Board to address the complaints and grievances of the gig workers and take any necessary action.