It is Durga Pujo. Kolkata, the city of joy, is decked up like a newly-wed bride. Multi-coloured LED lights garland the streets, while songs can be heard from every corner. Cutting through the lights, decorations, and music, 40 bikes with men in the iconic yellow Blinkit uniforms rally towards the State Secretariat Office in Nabanna.
Their chants of ‘Pay delivery agents Rs 50’ echoed from Kasba through Ballygunge, all the way to Hazra where they were stopped by the police.
Before their rally started, this reporter informed them that they might not be allowed anywhere near the Secretariat and would be stopped by the police. One of the delivery agents, 26, smiled and said, “We know! We just want our voices to be heard.”
Incidentally, when the police stopped them at Hazra crossing, all of them parked their bikes beside the pavement, and patiently waited while the inspector-in-charge was summoned. Those leading the pack spoke to him and informed him of their grievances and told him that they wanted to deliver a signed petition to Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. The police officer promised to deliver the petition himself. The petition was handed over, and the men went back to where they had come from.
What Are the Grievances?
Since Wednesday, 28 September, delivery partners of Swiggy and Blinkit in Kolkata are on strike, demanding a hike in their pay. According to the agents, several areas across Kolkata and Howrah have been affected
Blinkit agents allege that their base pay or share per order has been reduced from Rs 50 to Rs 20. They demand that the rate be restored to its original value. They held a few meetings with their regional managers and head of HR, but the talks didn't succeed.
Swiggy delivery agents have a similar demand. They want their minimum pay (first 8 kilometres) to be hiked from Rs 10 to Rs 20, and the pay per extra kilometre hiked from Rs 5 to Rs 10.
Both groups have been trying to liaise with their respective authorities for a solution, but the lack of response from the companies prompted them to go on a strike. It must be noted here that this isn’t the first time the delivery agents of Blinkit and Swiggy have been demanding a wage hike – in the city or the country.
Swiggy, on Thursday, introduced a month-long surge pay for their delivery partners. It also promised to roll out the new price brackets by 31 October. The Swiggy agents called off their strike on Friday, but plan to continue protesting until their demands are met.
'Haven’t Been Able To Buy New Clothes for My Children'
A 29-year-old delivery partner, on the condition of anonymity, told The Quint that he has promised his three-year-old child that he will buy him new clothes for Durga Pujo. However, he hasn’t earned a single penny since Wednesday and is unsure how he is going to survive the next week.
A sole-earning member of the family, he said, “There is a sense of hopelessness and extreme anxiety. Durga Pujo is the grandest festival for Bengalis, and we get to celebrate that once a year. This time around, I haven’t even been able to buy new clothes.”
He explained that previously when they were being paid Rs 50 at minimum per order and would average close to 20 orders per day. As a result, they would manage to earn Rs 1,000 daily. Deducting fuel expenses (Rs 250-300) and food (Rs 100), they would still have Rs. 600 left to take back home.
"We would use the money to take care of our family, pay for our children’s education and pay the EMIs for our motorcycles. On top of that, we must pay Rs 2,000-3,000 per month for the bike’s maintenance."BlinkIt delivery partner, 29
He added that if the pay is brought down to Rs 20 per order, then they would only be earning Rs 400 a day. “That way, we will have no money left by the end of the day,” he sighed.
His sentiments are echoed by another delivery partner, aged 22, who said, “We Hindus and Muslims celebrate Durga Pujo together. We also go to our Hindu brothers' houses and give Anjali. We also want to buy new clothes and go places.”
Meanwhile, his mother has asked him to start saving money for his sister’s wedding. He says that he was barely making ends meet when he was making Rs 50 per order. With the reduced pricing, he doesn’t know how he will get through the next week.
He, along with most delivery agents started working at a very young age, with an incomplete education owing to their humble backgrounds.
This delivery partner told The Quint that he started working part-time at a florist and later a chemist shop from as early as seventh grade.
"When other kids would go to play or for tuitions, I would be working to earn money. I had to change my tuition timings so that I could work. I used to work part-time at the florist and chemist."BlinkIt delivery partner, 22
He adds that his father, who works as a salesman in a small shoe-shop doesn’t earn enough to run the family. So, he, who initially started working part-time jobs to earn his own pocket money, was gradually expected to support his father, which led him to drop out of college and take up gig jobs including that of a lighting technician, mechanic, and more before becoming a delivery partner.
"I have been trying to be the backbone of my family, but now I don’t know how I will continue."BlinkIt delivery partner, 22
Another delivery agent, 25, who dropped out during the first year of his college, said, “Even delivery partners have dreams. We too want to save money and do something with our lives.”
"We are not educationally qualified that we will take up some other job. Our situation is quite dire. We come from middle-class families. It's not like we can get a job anywhere easily."Blinkit delivery partner, 25
When asked about Durga Pujo, he remained silent for a moment, after which he said, “Forget buying new clothes, I haven’t even received my salary yet.”
He added that every single partner will be very thankful to the company if the rates are reversed, and that he would love to buy new clothes for his young nephew and his parents this pujo.
“I am happy if they are happy,” he smiled.
As the delivery partners got ready to take out a bike rally towards the State Secretariat in Nabanna, he pointed at them and told this reporter that most of them don’t even have money to fill fuel for the bike rally.
"Imagine how much even three days of strike, and no income is impacting us. We live in dire financial conditions. With Rs 50, we somehow managed to run our family. We can’t sustain ourselves now."BlinkIt delivery partner, 25
Shortly before the rally left, he concluded the conversation and said, “Whether someone understands or not, we know how miserable we are during this festive season. We have lost the excitement to celebrate Pujo. We don’t even know what we will eat if this goes on.”