As more business processes get automated in future, there is going to be a debate on how to protect the interests of independent workers
In the context of the way the Industrial Revolution 4.0 is set to revolutionise the future of work and jobs, one term that is being commonly used is “gig economy.” “Gig” refers to a short job or a task. Smartphones, super-fast internet networks and other technologies have resulted in the springing up of many companies that offer platform-based services and employ people for specific tasks while offering wages according to tasks accomplished. For example, many app-based service delivery platforms like Uber, Ola, Zomato, Swiggy, UrbanClap and so on employ people for delivery of products/services and offer incentives in accordance with trips completed, number of customer serviced or number of hours devoted. There are several advantages and disadvantages of this. For workers, it means flexibility and independence from strict 9 to 5 schedules, a way to earn money in accordance with the number of hours devoted and so on. The advantages for companies are that they are able to engage human resources that they otherwise may not have been able to afford. Also, the talent required for each task can be sourced from the best pool available without the compulsion of retaining them. Hence, it saves cost to a large extent as firms don’t have to give benefits like pension, gratuity, provident fund, bonus to the workers. The workers seem to have no rights except in cases of breach of contracts by the employer. This is a major downside as in the absence of any codified laws on regulation, workers are vulnerable to exploitation.
As more and more business processes get automated, there is going to be a debate on how to protect the interests of people working as independent contractors or workers, as several processes in industries, may get automatised, courtesy, Industrial Revolution 4.0.
Given the rising number of such people, governments are taking measures to recognise them as employees, a case in point being California, where lawmakers passed a Bill recognising gig economy workers as employees. In India, too, the new Social Security Code that is being framed by the Ministry of Labour and Employment aims to look into interests of gig workers. Words like ‘gig economy’, ‘platform economy’ and ‘sharing economy’ are appearing in Government documents for the very first time. However, India was always a gig economy. Ancient scriptures like the Atharva Veda tell us that besides agriculture, people engaged in occupations like carpentry, pottery-making, jewellery-making, weaving, carpentry and so on, when they were not engaged in any agrarian activity. In fact, these trades or skill-based occupations were passed on from generation to generation and this led to the classification of society into occupation-based castes.
Further, there were people who were service providers who catered to the needs of society. They were other groups of professionals like physicians, professional singers, dancers, potters and instrument players. These professionals enjoyed high status in society, thus it can be easily said that possession of skills commanded respect in ancient Indian economies. Skills were aspirational and since skills were passed on from generations to generations, therefore how skill development would take place for youngsters was not a major problem. However, once India lost independence to the British and its people were bound to help in the administration of the country, Indians started aspiring to be part of the so-called clerical, bureaucratic or “white-collared” workforce. Slowly, educated Indians lost interest in traditional skills and believed that only white-collared jobs would help them lead a prosperous life. The economy that was once self-sustained, was reduced to one that was trying to develop with the development model of the West. The results of the same are now before us.
The future of work that the world is talking about today has many aspects. Two aspects that would particularly impact emerging economies like ours are that human workers in future will be required to work together with machines as their co-workers. And, many job roles that exist today will be redundant in future as machines will be competent enough to carry out the tasks previously performed by people. Thus, it is imperative that governments should be prepared to face the challenge of ensuring “decent work” to the youth. They should be trained in skill sets that are expected to remain relevant in the wake of industrial disruptions. Once this is ensured, juggling different tasks or jobs rather than sticking to one becomes feasible. It is being predicted that the companies would prefer to engage people on processes that would essentially entail human intervention rather than that of machine and the workers would be engaged for a shorter duration till needed. This work culture is growing globally and is pointing towards strengthening of the gig economy. However, experience tells us that there is nothing to be afraid of. Humans invented machines and now we have to ensure that they remain our helpers and do not become a threat.
(The writer is Professor and HOD Management and Commerce, Trinity Institute of Professional Studies, IPGGSU)