India's gig workers reported a decline in take-home earnings across platforms as fuel costs increased and platform commissions decreased during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. This reinforced a long-term decline in the incomes of gig workers due to decrease in rate cards and incentives, according to Fairwork India report, an annual study of the labour conditions of gig workers for app-based businesses.

This year, the study focussed on major players: Amazon, BigBasket, Dunzo, Flipkart, Ola, PharmEasy, Porter, Swiggy, Uber, Urban Company and Zomato, whose service domains cover domestic and personal care services, logistics, food delivery, e-pharmacy and transportation.

The contentious relationship between gig workers and the platforms they work for continues to define the platform economy, the report says, especially over platforms referring to workers as 'independent contractors'. The sticking points include social security benefits, gratuity, minimum wage protection, and working hours.

Fairwork focuses on five principles of fair gig work: fair pay, fair conditions, fair contracts, fair management, and fair representation. This study evaluates and awards a basic and an advanced point to a platform for each principle. A platform can earn a maximum of 10 points.

No platform scored more than seven; none scored all basic points across the five principles; and three—Ola, Porter and Uber—scored nothing. Ola and Uber are tech unicorns.

As for work conditions, most platforms were unable to mitigate occupational risks that workers face, including road accidents, theft, violence, and adverse weather conditions. Workers also faced the additional risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus this past year. Three platforms provided their workers with accident insurance policies, took steps to improve claims processes and raise awareness of accident insurance, and had in place responsive emergency helplines. To deal with the threat of COVID-19, they also provided masks, sanitisers, a COVID-19 vaccination drive and insurance cover. Other platforms were either making policy changes, or were in the process of implementing them, to deal with the various occupational risks faced by workers.

As for the paperwork that protects both the employee and the employed: contracts—the study found an improvement in their accessibility and readability. Several platforms provided agreements in multiple languages but these remained opaque and difficult to understand. Some lacked a defined notification period, while another the process of how changes may be made to worker terms and conditions. Three platforms have committed to reducing the asymmetry in liabilities imposed on workers.

“Yet, the (mis)classification of gig workers as ‘independent contractors’ or ‘partners’, continues,” says the report. Many platforms lack the willingness to recognise and negotiate with worker collectives. The overall rates of collective association among workers remains low so far but this is changing.

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