Indian Federation of App-based Transport Workers files PIL seeking social security benefits

Yatti Soni Bengaluru | Updated on September 22, 2021

FILE PHOTO: App-based food delivery workers gather near a restaurant awaiting orders from customers in Hyderabad   -  The Hindu

It stated that its denial has led to exploitation of gig workers, causing violation to certain sections of the Constitution

The Indian Federation of App-based Transport Workers (IFAT) has filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court, demanding social security benefits for app-based transport and delivery workers.

Filed on September 20, the PIL stated that the denial of social security to gig workers or platform workers has led to their exploitation, causing violation of Article 21 (Right to Life), Article 14 (equality before law) and Article 23 (prohibition of traffic in human beings and forced labour) of the Constitution.

“Through the PIL, IFAT hopes to hold the app-based companies accountable for the lives and livelihood of the drivers/driver-partners and delivery partners/executives who are struggling to survive as their incomes are dwindling, fuel prices are rising, and they are under immense stress from loan recovery agents and even State officials as they try to earn a living in this pandemic,” said Shaik Salauddin, National General Secretary, IFAT.

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By labelling gig workers as independent contractors, platform companies like Uber, Ola, Swiggy, and Zomato have been able to deny giving gig workers with fixed salary and other social security benefits.

The petition argues that “ these platform companies call them ‘aggregators’ and enter into the so-called ‘partnership agreements’ does not take away the fact that there exists a jural relationship of employer and employee; master and servant and worker within the meaning of all applicable laws.” A recent judgment of the UK Supreme Court had also recognised Uber drivers as employees and not independent contractors.

The long-standing argument of worker unions against such platform’s business model is that in order to earn a minimum wage in a 12 hour shift, workers have to run after targets and have to work overtime in order to earn a sustainable income. These companies, however, claim that they do not define the work timings and workload of the gig workers.

Rising tensions

For the past few months, screenshots about the work conditions and payouts of delivery workers have been circulating on Twitter by anonymous accounts. This has pushed companies like Zomato and Ola to take cognisance of the workers’ demand.

Zomato noted, in its latest quarterly report, that they have included changes in the payout structure, extended cash limit, easy access to insurance-related information, among other things. The company had also talked about setting up its own delivery partners’ NPS (net promoter score) survey, which it claims to have improved from 10 per cent last year to 28 per cent in the last few months.

Interestingly, Zomato has also launched a new series of YouTube videos called Humans of Zomato, which showcases various delivery partners talking about their work and life.

Low score in gig work principle

In 2020, Fairwork India, an entity under the University of Oxford, had scored Swiggy, Zomato, Uber, and Ola low on the gig work principles including fair pay, conditions, contracts, management and representation. While Swiggy, Zomato and Uber scored 1 point on a scale of 10, Ola scored 2 points.

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Ola CEO, Bhavish Aggarwal recently said in a tweet, that the company is redoing the driver experience of its cabs and will solve many issues around payments, cancellations etc.

However, worker unions and industry trackers questioned the company’s intent and timing of the announcement, as a lot of the issues of drivers arise from Ola’s business model itself such as enhancing control of drivers over earnings, deciding their trips, payment structures, rate cards, and acknowledging them as employees rather than independent contractors.

Published on September 22, 2021

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