"What happens to a gig worker if there is an accident? What happens to gig workers when they get old? What happens to gig workers when they get sick?" asked prominent social activist Nikhil Dey as he sat across a table in a cafe near the Jaipur Secretariat.
One of the key personalities in advocating for labour laws, Dey worked closely with the Ashok Gehlot government in Rajasthan to formulate the Bill (now an Act) providing social security to the state's app-based delivery partners and gig workers.
The Rajasthan Platform Based Gig Workers (Registration and Welfare) Act, 2023 is a one of its kind step towards social security to the gig workers associated with app-based platforms like Swiggy, Zomato, UrbanCompany, Ola, Uber, and others, while putting the financial onus on the aggregators.
An idea conceived during the Rajasthan leg of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's 'Bharat Jodo Yatra' in December last year, the Act aims to benefit five lakh gig workers residing in the state.
But with several hiccups, hurdles, and the delay in its implementation ahead of the Assembly elections, will the Act benefit Gehlot?
The Quint spoke to several stakeholders involved in making the Act a reality and scores of gig workers in Jaipur.
What the Act Aims to Achieve
It is a well-known fact that the the delivery partners and workers associated with these apps are not actually their employees.
So, they have no say in the aggregators providing key benefits that full-time employees get, including:
Immediate redressal in times of accidents or emergencies
Cap on how much commission they charge on every delivery at your door
The Act aims to answer the exact questions that Dey raised in the beginning of the interview.
"When Rahul Gandhi came here, gig workers met him. In record time it became a budget announcement 200 crores was given from the state government to set up a social security board and what does a law do? Three things:
Number one - It says number one that there will be a board which will be tripartite - it will have aggregators, it will have Gig workers and it will have a government on it.
Number two - It says that the percentage of every ride, which is a percentage of the work I am doing, will go toward the Social security gig workers.
Number three - It says all the transactions will come through a central transaction monitoring system," Dey said.
"So, what the aggregators have is basically data. That data will have to be shared with the workers themselves through the board. You (aggregators) are taking too much from us in terms of commission. Why are you taking it? The vehicle is mine, the petrol is mine, the risk is mine, the time is mine," Dey said.
Here are some of the key highlights of the Act:
The Act levies a cess on the aggregators, ranging between 1-2% of every transaction made by the delivery partners/driver/service provider, which will go towards welfare of the gig workers.
It mandates the registration of all gig workers with the state government to bring them under the ambit of labour regulations, and provide them with a unique ID.
These aggregators are mandated to include health insurance, accident coverage, and other welfare measures to provide financial support to the gig workers during emergencies.
The Act provides for formation of a board, which will include representatives of gig workers, aggregators, and government officials. The board will work towards formulating schemes, assigning representatives to gig workers for grievance redressals, ensuring the collection of the welfare cess from transactions by the aggregators, and transferring monetary benefits through direct benefit transfer.
The state government can impose fines between Rs 5 lakh to Rs 50 lakh for subsequent violations of the Act by aggregators.
CM Ashok Gehlot announced the allocation of Rs 200 crore as one of the first initiatives under that act. The funds will be used to transfer Rs 5,000 to the accounts of every registered gig worker for them to purchase better work equipment like helmets, riding gear, and more.
Where the Act Falls Short
If one reads the fineprint of the Act, it clearly looks to streamline the access of gig workers to their rights and benefits. But it does have its hurdles and drawbacks.
Dharmendra Vaishnav, leader of 'Rajasthan App-based Workers' Union' representing delivery partners with aggregators like Swiggy and Zomato and Ajay Saini, secretary of the Rajasthan Cab Drivers' Association, both had met Rahul Gandhi during the Bharat Jodo Yatra last year and were subsequently a part of the delegations that worked with the state government to draft the Bill.
"This law has given hope. It is a good thing for the community that it began with Rajasthan. But at the same time, I am not sure the workers will benefit as much as they should from the law. I am doubtful about that," Vaishnav said.
"The 1-2% levy that will be deducted per transaction for the worker won't benefit much. Workers working with companies like Swiggy, Zomato, the bike riders or cab drivers don't earn more than Rs 1000 per day usually. If you consider 1-2% levy, the collection for one person per day is Rs 10 - Rs 20. Even if you count the total to Rs 600 per month, it won't ensure social security," he said.
"Yes, the government has passed a budget of Rs 200 crore separately for the welfare and development of workers but the government's keep changing here. So, we wanted something permanent so even if the government changes, the schemes don't. These are just promises so far. The worker has not been able to connect with the government. The Congress and CM had such a huge opportunity.
Saini, meanwhile, said that the Act does not put in place immediate redressal measures in place during emergencies.
"The two main problems for drivers are commission and safety. In terms of safety, they have brought in insurance. For the charges, they have said that they will decide it in collaboration with the government. Once the issue of charges gets resolved, over 70% of the problems will get solved. The government has not been able to streamline the process. There should have been centres to inform people or kiosks to get information," he said.
While Gig Workers Raise Concerns, Will the Act Benefit Gehlot?
The Quint spoke to spoke to score of delivery partners and cab drivers in Jaipur on the condition of anonymity, who echoed the views of Vaishnav and Saini.
Even though most seemed positive about the Act, all of them raised three key concerns:
Lack of more stringet curbs on commissions: Most delivery partners and cab drivers feel that even though the Act increases transparency with respect to how much they commission they will be charged per transaction, the Act does not clearly put a cap on how much commission the aggregators can charge to begin with.
Uncertainty of implementation if government changes: Most gig workers expressed concerns over government schems not being implemented due to change of power in the state every five years. The registration of gig workers wanting to avail the Rs 5,000 benefit has also halted since the Modal Code of Conduct came into effect on 10 October.
Meagre publicity of the act: Many pointed out that the government failed to properly explain the benefits of the Act to workers directly, leading to many either being unaware of it or not fully undrestanding the process.
With opinion polls so far showing the trends in the favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Act is shrouded in concerns surrounding its implementation.
Dey said that the Act might not be able to make an impact elctorally in the upcoming polls, but expressed confidence that there won't be a pushback on it even if the government changes.
"Right now the law is very new. A scheme has been launched where because the law says that the aggregators have to register with the social security board in a period of 60 days and we are now in the Modal Code of Conduct so after this finishes they will have to register. In the meanwhile , the registration of Gig workers initiated by the Gig workers themselves has begun and that is the very unique aspect where the Gig worker just has to provide the transaction history that they have been paid by an aggregator even once or twice or any number of times," Dey said.
"I don’t think the word has spread yet but one of the last things that the Chief Minister did just before on the 2nd of October is launch the first scheme. As soon as the scheme spreads, the word will spread and we have seen the excitement among those Gig workers who are aware of trying to fight for their rights," Dey said.