The announcement for a Draft Bill on Gig Workers comes months before the Rajasthan Assembly elections. Over three lakh persons are gig workers with various online service providers in the state.
(Photo: The Quint/Chetan Bhakuni)
On 10 February, the Rajasthan government announced that it would introduce the Rajasthan Platform-based Gig Workers (Registration and Welfare) Bill, 2023. The draft bill, accessed by The Quint, envisages a social security and welfare board for platform-based workers.
The state government announced that they would set up a Rs 200 crore welfare fund for the same. It is pertinent to note that this is the first of its kind proposal in the country.
The Quint spoke to experts and union leaders about the draft bill. While they hailed the move and called it a ‘positive’ step, they raised questions about welfare cess, how aggregators can be made accountable, and whether the move is ‘tokenistic’ in nature.
The announcement has come just a few months before the Rajasthan Assembly elections. A Rajasthan government estimate says that over three lakh people are employed with various online service providers in Rajasthan.
While the bill has left the specifications of the welfare policies to the Board, it gives us a glimpse of what one can expect once it is formed. Some of the key functions of the board include forming general schemes for accidental insurance, medical agencies, and health insurance for all registered platform-based gig workers.
Moreover, workers can file petitions before the Board in relation to any issues pertaining to entitlements, payments, or any other benefits.
Hailing the initiative, Shaik Salauddin, founder and state president of the Telangana Gig and Platform Workers Union (TGPWU), said, “This progressive initiative will go a long way in promoting social justice for the deprived and backward classes of workers as most of the gig workers come from these segments of the society.”
Sabina Dewan, president and executive director of JustJobs Network and a senior visiting fellow at the Centre for Policy Research (CPR) in India, said, “Gig workers are the odd step-brothers of the self-employed workers since the platforms have control over them but they do not refer to them as employees. Hence, setting up redressal mechanisms is certainly a positive step as this means that you can hold the platforms accountable.”
About Rajasthan government's proposal to set up a Rs 200 crore welfare fund, Salauddin said, “Indian Federation of App-Based Transport Workers (IFAT), along with civil society organisations such as SR Abhiyan and others, have suggested that in order to make the welfare fund self-sustaining, a transaction-based levy be included in the law.”
The draft bill makes mention of a cess, which would be a percent of the total value paid from the consumer to the aggregator or primary employer. It states that the levy percentage will be decided by the Board.
The bill also states that if the aggregators contravene any of the provisions made by the Board, they will have to pay a fine of Rs 10 lakh or can be suspended or prevented from functioning within Rajasthan.
Dewan, however, questioned whether foreign app aggregators will come under the ambit of the bill. She said, “There are some foreign platforms that employ workers here such as Fiverr and Amazon Mechanical Turk. How will the board hold such companies accountable? How do you get them to register or pay cess? Many of the workers are home-based female workers. In this case, will such workers be left behind?”
While speaking to The Quint, researchers and union leaders said that a lot rides on how the draft bill is implemented and the welfare policies that it chooses to focus on.
Harish Gautam, executive committee member of the App Workers’ Union, said, “The bill proposes the establishment of a welfare board, which is appreciated but the reality of other sections of workers such as the construction workers paints a distressing picture of the failure of such welfare boards. The conditions of the construction workers largely remain unregulated and the necessary provisions such as minimum wages, Employees' State Insurance (ESI), Provident Fund (PF), and insurance cover are far from the reach of the common workers. In such a scenario, the introduction of a bill to regulate the rapidly expanding gig economy makes promises that seem disjointed from reality.”
Similarly, Dewan said, “There are a number of states that have set up several such welfare boards but the funds are not being used to provide benefits. Hence, we will have to see how effective they are. The International Labour Organisation (ILO) mentions nine social security measures. We will have to see which of these the Board is willing to implement. A lot depends on what the Board decides once it is formed. The devil is in the details.”
In a statement, the App Workers’ Union said, “The bill fails to deliver on ensuring the rights of the workers, and only makes some token gestures towards the interest of the increasing number of gig workers. Thus, the app workers do not have anything to look forward to apart from the vague, tokenistic gesture of the Rajasthan government attempting to gain electoral points.”
Sarthak Bhatia, PhD Scholar at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), whose research is on the political economy of platforms, asked several pertinent questions such as whether the welfare board will have any representation from the gig workers or from any unions working with gig workers.
He added, “The government needs to make detailed regulations under which the work of addressing workers' grievances is handled by the platforms themselves. An alternative to making only a welfare board might be to make regulations regarding grievance redressal that the platforms will have to adopt, with the welfare board acting as a state authority that intervenes if the workers are not satisfied with the redressal mechanisms at the platform. The primary responsibility and burden for redressal need to be with the employer.”
Dewan pointed out that the bill might be detrimental to certain sections of workers, such as women workers. She said, “It states that any gig worker is eligible for entitlements. So, does this mean that someone who turns on the app for one hour is eligible for the same entitlements as someone who does this for a living? Since there will be limited funds, how does one decide who is entitled to benefits? If they end up putting a time cap or the minimum number of hours that one puts in, then women, who take up gig work while managing numerous other household responsibilities, might be at a disadvantage.”