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Gig Economy Helps India’s Women Workers Gain Financial Independence

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women in uber swiggy and heydeedee(Left to right) Hey Deedee’s Nasima Shaikh, Swiggy’s Priyanka Thorat and Uber’s Harpreet Kaur have found newer opportunites in the gig economy
Image: Aditi Tailang

For nine years 34-year-old Seetha Laxmi, a single mother of two, had a routine: Head to Mumbai’s Borivali railway station during peak commuting hours, jostle her way into packed trains carrying a big basket full of imitation jewellery—earrings, anklets, bracelets—and try and sell it, making about ₹300 a day.

After her husband abandoned her, Laxmi had turned to hawking on trains to make ends meet. She started her day early, worked for three to four hours before taking a break to return home and check on her children—then a year-and-a-half and four—and then went back to selling her wares on the Matunga-Borivali route.

Last year in January, she heard of Hey Deedee, India’s first all-women last-mile delivery service for ecommerce, retail and other businesses. Fed up of avoiding the police and switching compartments to win over that elusive buyer, Laxmi decided to grab the opportunity at Hey Deedee.

She had always wanted to learn to drive and this was an ideal platform to do that as well as earn a living. “When I was a train hawker, nobody knew me. But once I joined Hey Deedee, I got my own identity. That feels good,” says Laxmi, a resident of Sion.

“A lot of things changed in my life after joining here as a delivery associate. I learnt many new things. I even picked up some English and try to use it in my day-to-day life,” adds Laxmi, who starts her day at 5 am, completes her household chores, gets her son (the other lives in a hostel) ready for school before heading to work. “I earn about ₹18,000 a month. I’m now saving after a long time as I plan to buy a two-wheeler. At times I also support my parents financially,” she says.

Founded by Revathi Roy in 2016, Hey Deedee operates in 15 cities, including Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru and Nagpur, with clients such as Nature’s Basket, Amazon and Flipkart, among others. Women who join the platform undergo a 45-day training programme where they are taught to drive a car and a two-wheeler. They are also instructed on how to get a licence and trained in self-defence. Once on the road after the formal training, they deliver 30-50 parcels a day. Hey Deedee employs over 1,000 women in 15 cities.

Nasima Shaikh, 30, a housewife, is another woman who was economically empowered after she joined Hey Deedee. “My husband is an auto driver and I decided to start working too to ensure my three children get a better education,” says Shaikh adding that since she learnt to drive and became a delivery associate, she has become more confident of herself.

“A woman or man is empowered only when they are in a position to earn their own money and spend. Unless this happens, our society cannot progress,” says Roy, who was on Forbes India’s W-Power list in 2017. 

For the longest time, people in blue-collar jobs remained faceless and nameless, with few options to pursue their aspirations. However, an emerging gig economy and the increasing participation of women in it provide a glimmer of hope.

According to the Employment Outlook Report by recruitment platform TeamLease, the gig economy is expected to generate more jobs in the future. It projects that the gig economy will have half of the urban workforce by 2025 and 80 percent by 2030. In 2019 alone, women gig workers accounted for about 68,000 jobs in India. Priyanka Thorat was one of them.

The 24-year-old has become a celebrity of sorts, acceding to selfie requests when she delivers food to customers. In 2018, online food ordering and delivery platform Swiggy signed up five delivery women, including Thorat, for the first time. Initially, she found reading maps and locating restaurants difficult. But now navigation has become a breeze after she learnt how to read maps with assistance from the company. “People appreciate me. I’m treated with double respect which I never got when I used to work as a domestic help,” says Thorat, whose parents passed away after she entered her teens. Since then, the resident of Worli’s BDD chawl in Mumbai has been single-handedly taking care of her three siblings.

Swiggy provides certain options for its women delivery executives. “They are free to log in at any hour and we encourage them to end their shift before 6 pm. There is also a policy where they operate in areas that are identified as safe zones. Also, as a precautionary measure, they are all provided with a pepper spray during their onboarding process,” says a Swiggy spokesperson.

Founded in 2014, Swiggy has more than 1,550 women delivery partners across 22 cities, including Mumbai, Pune, Bengaluru, Nagpur, Hyderabad, Chennai, Kochi and Kolkata.

Apart from becoming financially independent, women in the gig economy will also steer the country’s economic growth. The McKinsey Global Institute said India’s GDP could rise by $0.7 trillion if the workforce participation rate of women increases by 10 percentage points by 2025.

However, it’s easier said than done. Women in the country still battle stereotypes. Access to education and employment is a privilege for many. And convincing in-laws to allow them to work after marriage remains a major hurdle. Startups like Curryful are working to break such barriers by enabling housewives to make money by preparing meals from the comfort of their homes. Founded in 2018 by Ben Mathew, Rakesh Sasidharan and Roshni Joseph, it is a home-food marketplace that delivers homemade meals to customers. All the meals are freshly prepared and delivered in 40 minutes. “Our idea was born out of strategy as well as from our personal obsession to change the economic participation of women in society. Through research, and through opportunities we saw in our past roles, we arrived at the Curryful business model where we wanted to build a shared-economy and mobile-internet-based food service powered by women entrepreneurs,” says Sasidharan.

curryful chefAnuja Shah is able to make ₹6,000 a month by being a home chef on Curryful
Image: Mexy Xavier

Anuja Shah, 40, a chef at Curryful, had to discontinue her job as a lecturer at SNDT Women’s University  in Mumbai due to domestic responsibilities. She was always passionate about cooking and Curryful gave her the opportunity to exercise her culinary skills. Women like her have turned their homes into cloud kitchens and their food is in demand among the millennial workforce.

Curryful has its home chefs listed on Zomato and Swiggy. “My specialty is Gujarati dishes. I keep experimenting and adding new dishes to my menu once Curryful approves them. The price ranges from ₹80-120 per dish and I manage to cater to 10-12 orders per day. I’m only preparing lunch as of now… if I start doing dinner, my income will be higher,” says Shah, who earns ₹6,000 a month. “My family is extremely supportive. In fact, there are times when my husband helps me with the packing of the food.” 

Operating out of South Mumbai, Curryful has over 50 chefs and plans to expand to 25 cities and partner with 250,000 women entrepreneurs over the next three years.

According to BetterPlace, a platform for blue-collar workers, the gig economy accounts for more than 1.4 million jobs in India. Most of these include drivers, delivery associates, beauticians, maintenance workers and so on. However, TeamLease points out that there’s an 8-10 percent salary difference between male and female delivery executives; women are paid less for the same jobs.

Pravin Agarwala, co-founder and CEO of BetterPlace, disagrees. “I don’t think so. It’s completely driven by demand and performance. On the contrary, the supply is less and hence they [women] can ask for more [money],” he says. Roy of Hey Deedee concurs. “There is no pay disparity. In fact women are more diligent compared to men. They don’t waste their time after work… their focus is on going back home to their kids. Although the attrition rate is high, we are doing our best to retain employees by offering good incentives and insurance.”

It will soon be a common sight to see a woman behind the wheel while booking a cab as online ride-sharing companies have also started onboarding more women. Harpreet Kaur, 45, for instance, is a registered driver on Uber. “I joined Uber India four years ago. Since the age of 13, I was passionate about driving cars… my father was a driver and I was inspired by him. I learnt driving at a young age. But I cannot tolerate Mumbai’s traffic and so, I prefer doing night duty when the roads are empty and I can do more trips,” says Kaur, who quit studies after class 10 and now earns more than ₹60,000 a month.

swiggy partner and dance teacherSwiggy delivery partner Laxmi Prajapati is also able to continue teaching and learning dance
Image: Aditi Tailang

“A lot of people said this job is not meant for girls, it’s not safe. I listen to everyone, but do what I feel is right. I’m doing something I’m passionate about and where I have the freedom to work whenever I want. There is no boss breathing down my neck and no pressure. When your family members are supportive, things become easy. Everyone in my family has been supportive as a result of which I feel powerful,” says Kaur, who lives in Chembur in Mumbai. She is the sole breadwinner of the family currently as her husband lost his job. She bought a new SUV recently on a monthly installment basis and mostly does airport pickups at night. “Customers are happy when they see a female driver. During night time, women are relieved to find a woman driver,” says Kaur.

“Through various initiatives and programmes, we aim to onboard more women and gender-diverse partners by devising a value proposition that offers earnings, safety and a support experience to them. We would like to continue onboarding more women driver partners so that they can make a mark in the industry of mobility and earn a sustainable livelihood,” says an Uber India spokesperson. He, however, refused to divulge the number of women the company has employed.  

It’s not just all work and no play. Companies also give women a chance to pursue their hobbies on the side. Recently Swiggy started a campaign called ‘Swiggy Starhunt’ in which the company encouraged its delivery partners to showcase their talent on video-sharing app TikTok.

Laxmi Prajapati, 36, a Mumbai-based delivery partner with Swiggy since the past year, was enthused when she learnt about this. A dance instructor in the morning and delivery executive by afternoon, she never misses an opportunity to make a TikTok video while she is waiting at a restaurant for an order. “I love to dance… all my stress goes away. With Swiggy I’m able to pursue my passion. I teach dance in the morning and learn in the evening. There are no restrictions with Swiggy… there are days when I get orders for choreographing a wedding sangeet. I don’t have to worry about losing my job… I just go offline for the day and take up sangeet orders,” says Prajapati, who got married at 16 and has three children (a daughter and two sons). “I’m able to earn money and pursue my passion because of my family’s support. My 17-year-old daughter helps me with household work and my youngest son, who is in class 3, is also quite self-reliant. I feel blessed. I never imagined I’d get so much recognition and respect. At times when I deliver orders, people say things like, ‘We’re glad you delivered this, more power to you’,” says Prajapati, a resident of Malad. “In the future, I want to ensure my children get the best education and all the facilities that I did not get in my life. We live in a small house now and I want to buy a bigger one. Recently I bought a two-wheeler on EMI and put my children in a better school. Everything will be alright soon.”

(This story appears in the 13 March, 2020 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from Magzter.com. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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Workers

CERB 2.0? Trudeau Hints at New Benefit for Gig Workers

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The CERB may be winding down, but that doesn’t mean out-of-work Canadians can’t still get benefits.

That’s the takeaway from a recent statement by PM Justin Trudeau, who announced that his government had been working on a “21st century EI system.” In covering Trudeau’s statement, the Canadian Press reported that the revamped EI system would replace the CERB, bringing more Canadians under coverage — including one group of Canadians who had been sorely neglected until the CERB came into effect.

An “EI-like benefit” for gig workers

One of the main beneficiaries of Trudeau’s “transitional EI-like benefit” would be gig workers. Under current rules, gig workers are considered self-employed. That means that they’re opted out of EI by default. Gig workers can indicate that they want to pay in to EI, but usually don’t. The self-employed pay twice the usual rate on CPP; passing on EI premiums is a way to partially offset that extra tax. As a result, many self-employed Canadians aren’t covered by EI.

Trudeau’s new EI benefit could remedy that. While details on the plan are scarce so far, it appears that there will be an interim benefit to cover non-EI eligible Canadians, followed by a totally revamped EI system. It’s hard to predict exactly what the latter will consist of, but the former will probably be regular EI with looser eligibility requirements.

Why this is good news

While many out-of-work Canadians may bemoan the loss of the $2,000 a month benefit, it may ultimately be a good thing. The CERB has always been beset by concerns about eligibility and fraud. Many Canadians have reported being “scared” to spend their CERB money, and ominous CRA statements probably haven’t helped with that.

Getting back to EI could therefore be a welcome development. While the average monthly amount isn’t as high as the CERB, EI has fewer eligibility questions hanging over it. As a result, individuals receiving EI may feel more free to spend it.

For example, if you received $1,000 a month in EI, you could spend that money on investments. If you took $1,000 worth of EI and spent it on shares in Fortis, you’d be within your rights to do so. After all, it’s a program you paid in to, and if you’ve been laid off, you’re eligible to benefit from it. It doesn’t matter how you spend the money.

With the CERB, it’s not quite so simple. There’s been a big question mark about eligibility ever since the program began, and spending CERB money on non-essential items has been frowned upon. If you took $1,000 worth of CERB money and bought FTS shares with it, that wouldn’t make you ineligible. However, it could be inconvenient if the shares declined in value, and you were later forced to repay the CERB. With EI, you always know that you’re entitled to the money you’re getting, as applications are pre-screened for eligibility. As a result, you can sleep soundly no matter how you spend the money — be it on groceries, Fortis shares, or anything in between.

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Observers call on National Wages Council for more aggressive wage support, office to look after gig workers, Manpower News & Top Stories

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In September and October 1998, as the full impact of the Asian financial crisis on Singapore’s economy became more apparent, the National Wages Council (NWC) was convened a second time that year to revise its annual wage guidelines.

Its original guidelines, issued in May, had called for wage restraint and non-wage cost-cutting measures, as the Trade and Industry Ministry forecast economic growth for the year of between 2.5 per cent and 4.5 per cent.

But as the crisis deteriorated, the growth forecast for the year was revised downwards in June to between 0.5 per cent and 1.5 per cent.

The NWC in November proposed that in addition to a 10 percentage point cut to employers’ Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions recommended by the Committee on Singapore’s Competitiveness, total wages for 1998 be cut by 5 per cent to 8 per cent, as compared with 1997.

This year, with Singapore headed for its worst recession since independence due to the Covid-19 pandemic, observers suggested that the council consider calling for more aggressive wage support, an office to look after gig workers and pay hikes for low-wage staff.

Manpower Minister Josephine Teo said in a Facebook post yesterday that the NWC will reconvene this year. The council made its annual wage guidelines in March this year.

Institute for Human Resource Professionals (IHRP) chief executive Mayank Parekh said that without the prospect of a near-term recovery of demand, there could be more job losses and wage cuts on the horizon.

“It is timely for the NWC to review its earlier recommendations and seek support for additional measures to safeguard jobs and enhance employability,” he said.

“More aggressive wage measures, higher support for job redesign and re-training and additional guidelines on retrenchment payments could be considered.”

Singapore Human Resources Institute president Low Peck Kem suggested the council look at whether the Jobs Support Scheme of wage subsidies can be extended, as well as the need for funding to facilitate job redesign for future-ready jobs.

It could also propose the setting up of a tripartite office to help and protect gig workers, who tend to fall under the radar because they do not have employers, she said.

National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) assistant secretary-general Zainal Sapari said the NWC should continue to push for wage increases for low-wage workers, even amid the pandemic.

“Instead of recommending a quantum wage increase, I would like NWC to set a long-term target of where wages of these vulnerable low-wage workers who are performing essential services should be at. This could then act as a guideline for the wage increases and the necessary productivity initiatives that must be embarked upon to make it sustainable,” he added.

This is only the fourth time since being set up in 1972 that the council has been convened twice in the same year.

Aside from 1998, it also released revised recommendations in 2001, after the Sept 11 attacks on the United States, and in 2009 amid the global financial crisis.

In January 2009, the council updated its guidelines to recommend – among other things – that companies work with unions and workers to manage costs, such as through wage freezes or wage cuts, to save jobs.

The NWC had in March this year considered whether to recommend reducing CPF contribution rates to cut wage costs.

But Permanent Secretary for Manpower Aubeck Kam had said then that as the Jobs Support Scheme wage subsidy far exceeds the employer CPF contribution rates of up to 17 per cent, the Government did not feel that a cut to the rate was warranted.

DBS Bank senior economist Irvin Seah said that short of extending the JSS payouts for worst-hit industries, a temporary cut in employer CPF contribution rates could be an option the NWC considers.

But he cautioned that such a move would need to be weighed very carefully. “It would be a reduction in workers’ savings, on top of already widespread wage cuts.”

Amid reports of major retrenchment exercises in recent weeks, Mrs Teo also commented yesterday on the Fair Retrenchment Framework proposed by the NTUC last month. It includes protecting the Singaporean core of the workforce, while foreigners with special or critical skills could be retained as well.

She said in her Facebook post that the Singapore National Employers Federation will consider the framework and discuss a mutually acceptable way forward with NTUC.

In the meantime, the Manpower Ministry will continue its work on the Fair Consideration Framework, she said, adding that there would be updates soon.

“Tripartite partners are aligned on one thing – the need to support our workers and businesses through the storm brought about by Covid-19. Much work ahead,” she said.



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Trudeau says feds will create EI-like benefit for gig, contract workers – Red Deer Advocate

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OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the government plans to move out-of-work Canadians into the employment insurance system and provide parallel support for millions set to exhaust emergency pandemic aid who don’t have EI to fall back on.

The $80-billion Canada Emergency Response Benefit is set to wind down over the coming weeks, with those who are EI-eligible to start drawing assistance that way.

Speaking this morning, Trudeau said many people who don’t qualify for the program, such as gig or contract workers, will gain access to a transitional, parallel benefit that is similar to EI.

It will also include access to training, and the ability to work more hours without having as steep a clawback in benefit payments, Trudeau said.

He said more details will be unveiled at a later date.

The most recent figures on the CERB show that as of July 26, the government had paid out $62.75 billion in benefits to 8.46 million unique applicants since its launch.

About half those costs have gone to EI-eligible workers, leaving millions who don’t pay into EI unable to access the program once the emergency benefit ends.

“No one will be left behind,” Trudeau promised.

The economy started to reawaken after severe lockdowns in March and April as Statistics Canada reported the gross domestic product grew by 4.5 per cent in May.

The average economist estimate was for a 3.5 per cent increase in gross domestic product for May, according to financial data firm Refinitiv.

The national data agency said rebounds in May were seen across multiple industries with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions. Retail trade registered a 16.4 per cent bump to mark its largest monthly increase since comparable readings began in 1961.

Motor vehicle and car sales contributed the most to the retail growth. Statistics Canada says the sector would have grown by 11.4 per cent had they been excluded from calculations.

In a preliminary estimate for June, the agency said the economy continued to pick up steam, with a five-per-cent increase for the month.

Despite the two months of growth after two months of negative readings, Statistics Canada’s preliminary estimate is that economic output contracted by 12 per cent in the second quarter compared to the first three months of 2020.

The June and second-quarter figures will be finalized late next month.

CIBC senior economist Royce Mendes said in a note that a 12 per cent drop in the second quarter would be the largest decline ever by a long shot, even if such a decline is expected.

The Bank of Canada’s most recent economic outlook expected the second quarter of 2020 to be worse than the first, estimating a three-month drop in GDP of 14.6 per cent.

Overall, the central bank expected an economic contraction of 7.8 per cent this year, warning that after an immediate turnaround as restrictions eased, a recovery would be long and bumpy with some businesses and jobs not surviving the downturn.

Statistics Canada says economic activity still remained 15 per cent below pre-pandemic level despite the gains over May as business activity was slowly allowed to resume.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 31, 2020.

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