What does India’s first gig workers’ rights Bill stipulate?

The story so far:

On July 24, the Rajasthan government passed the Rajasthan Platform Based Gig Workers (Registration and Welfare) Bill, 2023. It is the first legislation of its kind in India outlining welfare schemes for the State’s approximately three lakh gig workers.

The Bill propose

The Bill applies to “aggregators” (digital intermediaries connecting buyers and sellers) and “primary employers” (individual or organisations engaging platform-based workers). The Bill proposes a Welfare Board comprising State officials, five representatives each from gig workers and aggregators, and two others from civil society. The Board will “set up a welfare fund, register platform-based gig workers, aggregators and primary employers… facilitate guarantee of social security to platform-based gig workers and to provide for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.” The Board will maintain a database of companies and workers and each worker will receive a unique ID which “shall be valid in perpetuity.”

In their recommendations to the government, labour unions previously objected to vague terminologies in the Bill that may offer loopholes to companies.

Fund is from

According to the Bill, the Board will create a “Social Security and Welfare Fund” comprising contributions made by individual workers, State government aids, other sources and a ‘welfare cess’ — a cut from each transaction — which the aggregator is required to pay. The rate of the welfare cess will not exceed 2% nor fall short of 1% of the value of “each transaction,” and aggregators are required to submit the amount within the first five days of a month. Unions objected to contributing to the fund, arguing that it should be sourced only from aggregator companies and State funds, owing to the fluctuating and inadequate nature of pay.

Workers’ rights

Under existing labour laws, gig workers who are named ‘partners’ by platforms are not ‘employees’ because theirs is not a “fixed term of employment” — marked by providing exclusive service to one provider for a specified duration. The Code on Social Security, passed in 2020 and yet to be implemented, carried “restrictive criteria” about eligibility which are done away with in the Rajasthan Bill, says Chiara Furtado, a tech and labour researcher with the Centre for Internet and Society. The Bill states any person has the right to be registered the minute they join an app-based platform, regardless of the duration of work or how many providers they work for.

The Welfare Board is expected to formulate schemes “for social security,” listing only accidental insurance and health insurance, and “other benefits concerning health, accident and education as may be prescribed.” Unions have recommended that benefits available to gig workers be enumerated clearly in the Bill, expanding on the clause “other benefits.” Another responsibility of the Welfare Board, unions say, should be to assist workers in negotiating contracts by developing standard formats and principles for aggregators.

Workers’ grievances

Gig workers “have an opportunity to be heard for any grievances” with “entitlements, payments and benefits provided under the Act.” Per Section 15, a worker can file a petition physically before an officer or online through the web portal. The employer can object to the order within 90 days before an ‘Appellate Authority’. Several reports have documented ineffective and unresponsive redressal mechanisms. Urban Company workers are currently protesting the “arbitrary” blocking of their accounts and a lack of support.

Are aggregators held accountable?

An aggregator’s duties under the Bill include: depositing welfare cess on time, updating the database of gig workers, and documenting any variations in numbers within one month of such changes. If they fail to comply, they will be fined up to ₹5 lakh for the first offence and ₹50 lakh for further violations; primary employers will pay up to ₹10,000 for the first offence and ₹2 lakh for subsequent violations.

Gig Workers

A gig worker is a person who works temporary jobs typically in the service sector as an independent contractor or freelancer. Gig workers enter into formal agreements with on-demand companies to provide services to the company’s clients.

Gig work is often characterized by flexibility, independence, and lack of job security. Gig workers often set their own hours and work from anywhere. They may also be able to choose the types of jobs they want to work on. However, gig workers do not receive benefits such as health insurance or paid vacation time. They may also be less protected by labor laws than traditional employees.

The gig economy is growing rapidly. In the United States, the number of gig workers is estimated to be over 50 million. The gig economy is also growing in India, with an estimated 7.7 million gig workers in 2020.

There are a number of factors that have contributed to the growth of the gig economy. These include the rise of the internet, the increasing use of smartphones, and the decline of traditional employment.

The gig economy has both benefits and drawbacks for workers. On the one hand, gig work offers flexibility, independence, and the opportunity to earn extra money. On the other hand, gig workers may lack job security, benefits, and protection under labor laws.

The future of the gig economy is uncertain. Some experts believe that the gig economy will continue to grow, while others believe that it will eventually decline. The future of the gig economy will depend on a number of factors, including the development of new technologies, the changing nature of work, and the regulatory environment.

Here are some of the pros and cons of gig work:

Pros:

  • Flexibility: Gig workers can set their own hours and work from anywhere.
  • Independence: Gig workers are not subject to the same level of supervision as traditional employees.
  • Opportunity to earn extra money: Gig work can be a way to supplement income or to start a new business. 

Cons:

  • Lack of job security: Gig workers are not guaranteed a steady income.
  • Lack of benefits: Gig workers do not typically receive benefits such as health insurance or paid vacation time.
  • Lack of protection under labor laws: Gig workers may not be protected by the same labor laws as traditional employees.

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