For the last two months, Kapil (name changed) has seen his earnings as a delivery executive with a popular food-delivery service in Bengaluru dry up. Earning close to Rs 1,000 per day before the lockdown, on completion of over 12 trips, he says that for the last many weeks, he has struggled to make Rs 1,000 per week. Food delivery agents and those working with e-commerce portals have been working to deliver ‘essential’ commodities through this period.
Drivers employed with cab-aggregator platforms have not logged into their apps since 24 March, when the national lockdown was first announced. No trips means no earnings for these ‘driver-partners’. With no fixed wages and incentives, they are still not recognised as employees of the firms they are working for.
While several of these start-ups have set up ‘relief funds’ to raise money from customers for the well-being of their partners, its reach has been limited and insufficient, despite several tens of crores raised through this effort.
While a few thousands drivers in Bengaluru have received cash assistance ranging from Rs 500-750, food delivery workers have received no cash assistance and some few thousands have gotten paltry rations.
Under a Facebook post by the Ola Foundation, the comments section is full of comments by drivers from across the country, stating their name and location, and a plea for help.
While over 17,000 drivers had gotten assistance from the 'Drive the Driver' fund for medical emergencies, various schemes including lease waiver for select drivers and a credit facility has been made functional since the lockdown.
Taking note of this dire situation, Bengaluru advocate Ayantika Mondal has filed a public interest litigation in the Karnataka High Court seeking judicial intervention in the matter and the payment of minimum wages as fixed by the state to those engaging in gig work, by the various aggregator companies, IT platforms etc for the months of March-May.
The PIL ultimately seeks a directive or order to ensure protection to gig workers, under employment law. The HC on Tuesday, 12 May dismissed the petition on the grounds that it could not direct the state government to constitute a law. Observing the ‘good intent’ behind such a plea, the HC said that it could be presented before the state government to expeditiously look into it.
Earlier, in October 2019, then labour minister Suresh Kumar had reportedly said that the state government would work towards framing guidelines for the emerging gig economy, to ensure they are entitled to relevant labour benefits.
“There is no law in the country which assures the gig worker a square meal. Sadly, the aggregators engaging the gig workers are not required to pay any fixed salaries, benefits, compensation, etc, when the industry largely depends on the hard work of these gig workers. There are several reports of the loss of lives in the state, of people from this class. there is a necessity of judicial activism required to reinvigorate and place gig workers within the purview of the labour & employment laws by passing a suitable order,” she said.
‘Can’t Make Ends Meet’
Mahesh, who drives an auto and a car, has seen close to zero earnings, as cabs and autos have been told to stay off the roads due to the lockdown. The repeated extension of the deadline is only adding to the confusion and uncertainty.
The Yediryuappa government recently announced a one-time settlement of Rs 5,000 for auto and taxi drivers, but people say that it is not enough.
“I want to ask them, will they be able to survive for a month on Rs 5,000 and a few kilos of rice and dal. What about the last 60 days? How do we survive on Rs 5,000? Other states are giving on a monthly basis. This is not even enough for one month.”Mahesh, auto driver
“I had savings of Rs 5,000 for school expenses but that has been used up. My house rent is Rs 7,000... the owner is after to me to pay the pending dues. Added to that, are school expenses for the new year. I also have to pay almost Rs 7,000 as interest on the auto and car loans from private money lenders. There is no stay on those. We are paying quarterly tax on the vehicles and doing our duty, but there is no support for us,” added the resident of Basavanagudi, who has been a driver with a ride-aggregating platform for the last five years.
Tanveer Pasha, president of the Ola, Uber Cab Drivers Association, said that while grocery kits had been given to a few thousands drivers, the quantities were hugely insufficient.
“Only about 6,000 drivers have got a grocery kit of some kind. They were asked to come and collect it. When we asked why everyone had not got the kit, they said it will take time. Many of the drivers lead a hand-to-mouth existence and take formal and informal loans. There is no relief for that but earnings have dropped to zero. they are having to sell their jewellery and have started eating only 2 meals a day, to save money,” he said.
On earnings of Rs 2,500, the commission to the companies used to be nearly Rs 1,800, he said, adding that officials had not been responsive to plaints.
‘No Reduction of Targets; Compulsory Working Hours’
Asgar (name changed), a delivery executive with a popular food delivery service, said that he had not made even Rs 1,000 in the first week of May. He said that the company had not provided any type of masks, gloves or protective gear, even though they were expected to login and work daily.
“The demand has come down by over 60 percent. but still, there is no increase on the per-trip bonus and the incentives we get. To earn the same Rs 1,000 now, we have to pay Rs 200-300 for petrol as the distance between the restaurant to the customer are much longer... as fewer places are open. How are we supposed to survive? We are spending money on masks and sanitizer from our pockets, as we could not go and collect them from the head office. We had all the facilities, why would we not work?” he asked.
The 39-year-old said that he had not paid any rent for the past two months and had been forced to rely on his brother, a carpenter, to meet his family’s needs.
“It won’t even cost Rs 200 but they ave not given us sanitizer even. We have become use and throw for them. We are doing everything they asked. We have been asked to work compulsorily from 7pm-10pm, even if we login in the morning. Moreover, we upload selfies to the ‘Aarogya Setu’ app three times a day, for data collection. But we are getting nothing in return.”Asgar, delivery agent
Kaveri Medappa, a PhD scholar working on the gig economy and related fields, said that it was a misconception that many of the gig workers were only employed part-time.
“These workers have been deemed essential so that middle class urban residents get served in their houses, but are simply invisible in the eyes of the law and to the state, as they continue to suffer the precarity already characteristic of these jobs together with the added health risk and decline in incomes while working during COVID-19. And there is a misconception that most of them work part time etc, but a majority of them actually depend on this for a livelihood and have been working for several months and years,” she said.
“While all these companies have been expanding their businesses during COVID-19, workers have not had any positive change to their conditions of work. And I'm not even sure if these platforms are working with state departments for these workers to be tested.” she added.