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For artists and gig workers, expanded emergency benefit access is ‘encouraging’ — but worries about the post-COVID-19 future remain

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Toronto drummer Nick Fraser has watched COVID-19 eviscerate the income and opportunity generated by his music career — including a scheduled tour in Italy. But for weeks, it seemed unclear whether artists, musicians and gig workers in similar circumstances would qualify for the federal government’s new $2,000 job-loss benefit.

Now, that question has been answered — at least in part.

Earlier this week, the federal government announced plans to widen access to the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit, originally intended for those whose incomes were entirely wiped out by COVID-19. Soon, it will open to those with drastically reduced earnings — expected to mean those working 10 hours or less a week, or earning less than $500 a month.

“I think it’s encouraging,” Fraser said. “That’s how the gig economy works. People have multiple streams of income and they’re going to keep the ones they are able to keep.”

While the news is a glimmer of hope for some, Montreal-based musician and photographer Tess Roby says she’s still concerned the federal government’s response won’t be sufficient.

On top of her now-paused music and photography career, Roby works 20 hours a week at a part-time job; as a result, she may not meet CERB’s new eligibility criteria — criteria she worries will still shut out too many people.

“It doesn’t surprise me that the government would leave those people out — people who are in precarious work, people who live paycheque to paycheque, people who are multidisciplinary,” she said.

“It’s really difficult to think that so many people would be forfeiting work just for a chance to qualify.”

For gig workers and artists, earnings are usually low and unpredictable in the best of times; a recent Statistics Canada study found the average annual income for those in the gig economy is $4,300.

“Gig-economy workers are part of a precarious job market — their employment is not a guarantee of a livable income. In fact, during this time, many are getting less income than before,” said Jan Simpson, president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.

The union has called on the government to expand emergency support to both gig workers and those who do not have social insurance numbers, including international students and those who are in the process of getting their permanent residency.

“These workers already lack basic protections and almost never have access to benefits like paid sick leave. Their lack of protection forces them to continue working, even when they are unwell,” Simpson said.

Many workers now deemed essential, notes Fraser, are also among the lowest paid.

“The system is broken if you’ve got the most essential workers getting paid the least, getting paid so little that income support is going to be more money than they make in the first place,” he said.

For Roby, that reality speaks to the need for something more robust than a means-tested emergency benefit.

“I think we are closer than ever before to moving in the direction of a universal basic income,” she said. “I think that should be seriously considered by our government.”

That measure, she adds, would help support people like musicians whose income will be impacted long after the immediate COVID-19 crisis subsides. Spain recently announced it would roll out a universal basic income to deal with the pandemic’s fallout.

“There’s no foreseeable sight of when any of this will resume,” Roby said. “I think live performance is going to change after this. Even when people are allowed to go back to venues to concerts, are they going to want to go back?”

Roby says she’s grateful to have received numerous messages from fans thanking her for her music, offering them a brief escape from global angst.

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“But I also can’t help but think, if you only knew how difficult this was,” she said. “This has exposed all of the cracks in our system.”

That, says Fraser, should — at some point — prompt some collective reflection.

“I hope at the end of all this there’s a little bit of a rethink about the value of people’s work,” he said.



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Swiggy Delivery Workers Strike, Gig Economy Rebels & More

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Swiggy delivery workers went on strikes on Hyderabad and Noida to protest against low wages

Flipkart has on-boarded Paytm’s e-wallet on its platform to offer customers another payment option

Facebook has said that content moderation is handled by an independent team and not by the public policy head

The season of strikes is upon us. Their sufferings accentuated by the financial disruption caused due to the Covid-19 pandemic, delivery workers with Indian foodtech unicorn Swiggy went on strikes in two cities this week — Hyderabad and Noida. Their grievances were largely similar, reduction of minimum payout per order from INR 35 to INR 15, removal of performance-based monthly incentives of up to INR 5,000 and a lack of social security even as they continue to work in harm’s way, delivering orders to hundreds of customers while the pandemic shows no signs of abating. 

Swiggy’s response to the grievances of its delivery workers also remains cold and distant, like the automated statement aimed to assuage, not by addressing the concerns of its workforce, but by downplaying their reservations altogether. 

“Most delivery partners in Hyderabad make over INR 45 per order, with the highest performing partners making over INR 75 per order. This INR 15 is only one of the many components of the service fee,” a Swiggy spokesperson told Inc42 when asked about the workers’ strike in Hyderabad.

“Naturally, no active delivery partners in Hyderabad have made only INR 15 per order in the last four weeks. It is important to note that the service fee per order is based on multiple factors to adequately compensate our partners including distance travelled, waiting time, customer experience, shift completion and incentives. Regular competitive benchmarking shows that these are at par, if not higher than the industry standards.” 

When asked about the removal of monthly incentives of up to INR 5,000 for delivery workers, Swiggy has claimed that the incentives weren’t benefiting a large section of the delivery workers. So, the company claims to have substituted those with incentives on a daily basis, not disclosing the amount which the worker stands to earn from the same. 

Nevertheless, protesting workers don’t seem to agree with the company’s stance on the usefulness of the monthly incentives.

Tellingly, the company’s delivery executives have now gone on strike in three different cities in the last 30 days. Their ‘season of strikes’ began in Chennai last month when workers took to the streets to protest against low wages. A few days later, Swiggy claimed that it had had a positive dialogue with its delivery workers and that the company was back to serving the entire city of Chennai. However, if the strikes in Hyderabad and Noida prove anything, it’s that the company isn’t willing to accept the demands of its delivery executives. At least not without waiting for the entire issue to boil over, for the workers’ will to protest to die out of desperation, and the need for an income eventually forcing them to return to work. 

The strikes by Swiggy’s delivery executives are only an indication of the sufferings of India’s gig economy workers. You can read this week’s The Outline by Inc42 Plus to gain a comprehensive understanding of why India’s gig economy workers are up in arms. 

Other Developments

  • Hospitality chain OYO has refuted allegations made by a Chandigarh-based businessman Vikas Gupta, who claimed that the company had abruptly terminated its agreement with him and then asked him to pay penalties.
  • Ecommerce giant Flipkart is integrating digital payments giant Paytm’s e-wallet on its platform, allowing users to select the option at checkout. The move is surprising as it could have a detrimental effect on Flipkart-owned digital payments player PhonePe, which competes with Paytm in the digital payments landscape.
  • Meanwhile, even as Chinese investments in India come under a heavy lens amid the border standoff between the two countries, Flipkart has raised $62.8 Mn from Chinese tech conglomerate Tencent Holdings. The Chinese company will own about 4 to 5.3% stake in Flipkart Pte, which is the online retailer’s Singapore-based holding. Though this is a small investment in the ecommerce giant, it comes as a time when the anti-China sentiment is at its peak.
  • Global tech giant Apple will be launching its first online Apple Store in India on September 23 offering a full range of its products and support directly to the customers across India. The company has assured that it will offer the same “premium experience” online as it does in its brick-and-mortar stores.
  • While Facebook’s India public policy head Ankhi Das continues to face the heat for failing to clamp down on hateful posts by politicians of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the company’s India vice president and managing director Ajit Mohan has claimed that content moderation on the platform is enforced by an independent team and not by the director of public policy.
  • This week, Facebook also made the news when it skipped a hearing of the Delhi Assembly’s Peace and Harmony Committee, which is probing the social media giant’s direct or indirect hand in the Delhi Riots of February. Facebook argued that since it had already deposed before a parliamentary panel, and because the centre is in charge of the moderation of intermediaries (Facebook), so the Delhi Assembly should withdraw its summons. The Delhi Assembly committee was peeved by Facebook’s reply and said that it would issue another summons to the social media giant, as a ‘final warning’ to depose before the committee.
  • After months of relative calm, cryptocurrency stakeholders were jolted out of their bliss by a source-based Bloomberg report which said that the Indian government was moving fast to ban all virtual currencies in India and that a bill for the same would be introduced in the ongoing session of the parliament. Inc42 talked to some of the stakeholders in India’s crypto industry to understand whether the speculations should be taken seriously. You can read the full story here.

Among the movers and shakers this week, ByteDance’s director of public policy, Nitin Saluja, has joined Amazon India as senior public policy manager. Also, Facebook has appointed former COO of Ola Mobility as the director of its Global Business Group. 

From the funding and acquisitions corner, overall, $448.44 Mn was invested across 23 Indian startups this week, and three acquisitions took place.

Stay tuned for next week’s edition of News Roundup.



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Firm tracks extended workforce, wins Shark Tank-style contest during Collaboration in the Gig Economy conference

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September 18, 2020

Utmost Software Inc. was the judges’ pick among four workforce ecosystem technology startups presenting in a competition styled after the television show Shark Tank on Thursday. The event was part of the Collaboration in the Gig Economy virtual conference bringing together staffing firms, buyers and HR tech.

All four finalists were chosen from a number of firms to present before a panel of four judges, who picked their top startup.

Utmost provides software that enables enterprise firms to track their extended workforces, which include contingent workers, consultants, contractors and freelancers, among others. Unlike VMS providers, which are typically supplier-paid, the company has a set pricing model that is paid by enterprise firms themselves.

Utmost is also native to Workday and focuses exclusively on Workday customers. In addition, Workday is an investor in the company and Utmost co-founder and COO Dan Beck himself comes from Workday.

That relationship was one thing that caught judges’ attention.

“I like the business, it’s got a built-in customer base,” said Jai Shekhawat, one of the Shark judges. Shekhawat is also founder and former CEO of SAP Fieldglass. However, he did question why Utmost chose its pricing model when enterprise firms are more accustomed to the VMS supplier-paid model.

“I think he has a bright future ahead of him; not easy, but I wish him all the best,” Shekhawat said.

Timing, thoughtfulness and focus were also cited by the other three judges:

  • “Although there was something timely in everything we saw today, Utmost, in particular, I think is really timely to what enterprise customers, HR executives, hiring managers are trying to solve right now,” said Rebecca Henderson, CEO and executive board member at Randstad nv.
  • “All of the startups were really interesting,” said Pete Flint, managing partner of NFX, a venture capital firm. “Utmost stood out, just their thoughtfulness, their experience, their distribution; I think that really stood out. This is a terrific opportunity; it’s a burning need for many enterprises.”
  • “The criteria of innovation, market opportunity and the quality of the presentations made it really tough because some may be more innovative than others and some might have a bigger market opportunity,” said Gary Swart, partner at Polaris Partners, an investment firm. “I think Dan’s focus was a differentiator. The fact that there is not only an innovative solution but a focused go-to-market, not trying to boil the ocean and tackle too much.”

The other finalists presenting to the Shark Tank panel were:

  • Emma El-Karout, founder and CEO of One Circle, a digital community of on-demand HR freelancers.
  • Matthew Mottola, co-founder and CEO of Venture L. The company is described as a Shopify for running freelance businesses that enables freelancers to scale their operations.
  • Alexander Torrenegra, CEO of Torre, a professional network that is friendly for both knowledge workers and blue-collar workers that uses programmatic automatic matching for jobs.

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The Rubens Performing Livestream ‘Informal Formal’ Gig For Year 12 Students

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Fans can tune in to the livestream with The Rubens on Friday 25 May at 7pm AEST on KFC’s Facebook.

It’s been a stinker of a year for students, and as young Aussies head into their final exams, there’s a high chance they’re going to miss out on a rite of passage they’ve been looking forward to all year – the Year 12 Formal. While state governments are still working out if they’re happening and what they might look like, we do know that if they happen, they’ll be very different and a watered-down version.

To give these studious Aussies a chance to kick up their heels at home, KFC and ReachOut are throwing The Informal Formal, with beloved Aussie rock group The Rubens, bringing their bangers live to the lounge rooms of fans around the country

If you’re a Formal-less Year 12 student or want to reminisce on your Formal of years gone by, fans are encouraged to get their snazzy formal duds on and tune in to the epic gig on Friday 25 September from 7 pm via the KFC Facebook page.

To provide more than just entertainment, KFC will also be launching a competition for students to shout their entire year 12 class a delicious KFC dinner delivered on the night for a top-notch evening of dancing, singing and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Students can enter via the website from 9am AEST on Monday 21 September running until 9pm AEST on Wednesday 23 September.

The Rubens said: “We’re stoked to be working with KFC and ReachOut to put on The Informal Formal gig. Looking back at our own formals, it was a moment to enjoy yourself and mark the end of an era at school, and while so many Aussies can’t have their celebrations during this time, we hope this gives them a little bit of a moment to enjoy despite the circumstances. We’ll be playing some oldies as well as our newest release ‘Time Of My Life’. Tune in, and we’ll tune-up.”

The virtual concert is also aiming to shine a light on the services of ReachOut and encouraging Aussie youth to take a proactive approach to their mental health. With various restrictions in place across the country over the last few months and with some important milestone events being impacted, keeping your mind happy and healthy has never been more important.

Ashley de Silva, CEO at ReachOut, said: “By partnering with KFC and The Rubens we hope The Informal Formal will give young people across Australia a moment to celebrate but also to check in with themselves and others during a time that can be tough even in non-COVID-19 circumstances. Whatever life throws at you – from exams to isolation, free mental health support is available 24/7 at ReachOut.com”.

Kristi Woolrych, CMO at KFC Australia, commented: “With most Year 12s unable to attend the special moment that is their end of year school Formal, we are excited to be working with The Rubens and ReachOut to put on ‘The Informal Formal’. While nothing can replace attending the formal in person, hopefully, this brings some light relief to Australians across the country during these unusual times. We know that live music is a fantastic way to raise spirits and give a bit of a boost and we hope that the Informal Formal can provide a bit of fun to those who are doing it tough – especially the Year 12 students heading into exams.”

Fans can tune in to the livestream with The Rubens on Friday 25 May at 7pm AEST on KFC’s Facebook.

ReachOut is a free digital mental health service that helps young people with whatever life throws at them. ReachOut has articles, videos and tips to help young people when it comes to looking after their mental health all available free and 24/7. ReachOut also has safe and established online peer support forums where young people can share what’s happening to them and provide support for others in the community.

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