Gig Workers’ Access to Social Security in India
31 May 2021
The majority of India’s labour force operates in the informal sector, with the share of informal employment estimated at about 90 per cent in 2018-19, and the share of total employment in the unorganised sector estimated at about 80 per cent based on the Accountability Initiative’s analysis of the Periodic Labour Force Survey.
Further, only 26 per cent of regular salaried earners and casual labourers have access to one or more social security benefits among Provident Fund, pension, gratuity, healthcare benefits, and maternity benefits. Of them just 29 per cent were eligible for paid leave. The precarious nature of informal employment, combined with low social security coverage has left many workers vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes gig economy workers.
Who are gig economy workers?
Gig workers have become ubiquitous during the pandemic in urban areas – driving taxis, and delivering food or shopping parcels. The gig economy is characterised as an extension of the informal labour economy, with digital gig workers (e.g. for data labelling) and physical gig workers (e.g. ride sharing, food delivery) able to access gig work through technological platforms.
The bargaining power of workers is typically curtailed, through lack of relationships with fellow gig workers as well as information asymmetry with platform providers (wherein platforms alone hold information on availability of workers, workers’ performances, and a client’s willingness to pay).
The gig economy is likely to become a larger segment of the informal sector in the next decade, with the Boston Consulting Group estimating a potential growth to 90 million gig workers in India over the next 8 to 10 years.
With the gig economy redefining the nature of employer-employee relationships and worker rights, it is critical to include gig workers in regulatory frameworks and social security coverage.
Gig workers have limited access to regulatory frameworks
Four key labour law codes for workers are discussed below, with only one Code recognising gig workers.
- The Industrial Relations Code (2020) applies only to employees working in an industrial establishment. This excludes gig workers, who lack a uniform place of employment. Thus, provisions around unionisation, collective bargaining, and fair hiring and firing procedures, are not applied for gig workers.
- The Occupational Health, Safety and Working Conditions Code (2020) makes no mention of gig workers. This is troubling, especially in the context of many gig workers putting themselves at risk during the pandemic and continuing to work during lockdowns.
- The Code on Wages (2019) excludes gig workers, thus excluding the right to a minimum wage.
- The last one is the Code on Social Security (2020), discussed in further detail below.
The Code on Social Security (2020) makes provisions for gig economy workers, mandating that the Union and state governments frame and notify relevant welfare schemes. These would provide life and disability cover, health and maternity benefits, old age protection, education, provident funds, injury benefits, and other types of measures. A registration mechanism for gig workers and helplines to aid access to social security schemes are envisioned.
The Code on Social Security recommends that schemes be funded through a combination of contributions from Union and state governments, as well as gig platform aggregators. The contribution to be paid by aggregators is envisioned at 1 to 2 per cent of total aggregator turnover, but not more than 5 per cent of the total amount paid by aggregators to gig workers.
The National Social Security Board, as outlined in the Code on Social Security, will have oversight of the welfare of gig economy workers, and will include five representatives from aggregator companies and five representatives of gig workers. The Code also mandates that the Union government establish a Social Security Fund for gig economy workers.
While a promising step in the direction of providing social security for gig economy workers, the Code on Social Security does not elaborate on the scope, nature, funding mechanism or minimum goals for gig workers. Further, the implementation of the Code has been deferred beyond the intended deadline of 1 April 2021.
Gig workers need social security more than ever post-pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has had economic repercussions, with the unemployment rate rising to a high of 23.52 per cent in April 2020, and gradually increasing from 6.52 per cent in January 2021 to 11.9 per cent in May 2021 in the face of the second wave of the pandemic. The largest impact has been on informal workers, who saw a 22.6 per cent reduction in wages compared to a 3.6 per cent reduction for formal workers.
A survey of gig economy workers in September 2020 reveals that nearly 90 per cent of Indian gig workers lost income during the pandemic, with more than a third making less than ₹5,000 a month in August 2020.
Thus, it will be important to keep track of the implementation of social security schemes for gig economy workers as outlined in recent legislation.
Sanaya is a Senior Research Associate at the Accountability Initiative.
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