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Coronavirus And The Gig Economy : Planet Money : NPR

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CARDIFF GARCIA, HOST:

Hey, everyone. We know that these are uncertain and stressful times, and we here at THE INDICATOR feel really fortunate that we’re still able to get up every morning and do the work of informing and explaining and just helping you make sense of it all. And one reason we’re able to do that is because of your contributions to public radio stations. So we are asking you, if you can, to please donate to your local NPR member station. And to find out how, head to donate.npr.org/indicator. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON, BYLINE: NPR.

(SOUNDBITE OF DROP ELECTRIC SONG, “WAKING UP TO THE FIRE”)

GARCIA: Candy Roberts lives in Clayton, Del. And about a year ago, she started working for Instacart, the online grocery delivery company.

CANDY ROBERTS: I’m raising my autistic grandson, and I was struggling a little bit trying to find work that allowed me to be available when he needed me.

STACEY VANEK SMITH, HOST:

Candy heard about Instacart. She learned that she could be a shopper – take people’s orders, go to the store, get their groceries, drop them off. Best of all, she’d be an independent contractor, so she would not have set hours.

ROBERTS: And it allowed me to work the hours that I wanted to work, so I did. And it works – it’s been working great.

GARCIA: Candy is able to earn about a hundred dollars a day delivering groceries, and she gets the time she needs to be with her grandson.

ROBERTS: He’s pretty awesome. He’s the funniest kid ever. He has a lot of little crazy collections that he does. We collect M&M wrappers, and we collect cereal boxes. And he’s been doing that since he was about 4 (laughter).

VANEK SMITH: Candy liked being an Instacart shopper. She liked her customers. And then, says Candy, about three weeks ago, everything changed. And going to the supermarket started to feel a lot different.

ROBERTS: The atmosphere is – I’ve never felt anything like it. It’s scary, and it’s emotional. I said, you know, I think I kind of have PTSD from shopping.

VANEK SMITH: This is THE INDICATOR FROM PLANET MONEY. I’m Stacey Vanek Smith.

GARCIA: And I’m Cardiff Garcia. There’s never been a time when gig workers were more visible or more vital to people than they are right now. Instacart, Seamless, Uber, Lyft – a lot of these services have become lifelines to people in cities that have been locked down because of coronavirus.

VANEK SMITH: But gig workers are also in an especially vulnerable position right now. Many feel forced to work even though they don’t feel safe. Today on the show, we talked to Candy about her experience and look at what this moment might mean for workers like her in the future.

Candy Roberts says being an Instacart shopper has gone from a joyful job to kind of a blood sport.

ROBERTS: People steal stuff out of your cart. You know, you might’ve grabbed the last milk. Well, don’t look away from your cart because they’re going – somebody’s going to take it out of your cart.

GARCIA: There’s also, like, a kind of constant Darwinian struggle going on for the rarest items on everybody’s list – hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes and, of course, toilet paper.

ROBERTS: There is no toilet paper to be found. I just don’t – I don’t know what people are doing with it. Where is it going? I can’t figure out the toilet paper obsession right now.

GARCIA: The job, she says, used to be a joy, but now it’s just overwhelming.

ROBERTS: You know, Instacart even reached out to us and said, you know, this is the busiest time in their history.

VANEK SMITH: Are you making extra money with this extra business?

ROBERTS: Absolutely not. We’re working harder and making less.

VANEK SMITH: Candy says Instacart has typically paid a flat fee of $7 per order, and then she makes the rest in tips. But right now, she says, Instacart is paying a flat fee of around 3- or $4 per order. We reached out to Instacart many times to ask about this. They never responded. But we did confirm with other Instacart shoppers in other parts of the country that they’re also getting a lower flat fee from Instacart.

ROBERTS: I feel like they’re taking advantage of us. So they’re making loads of money. They’re not passing that on to any of the people who are making it for them.

GARCIA: Meanwhile, Candy says, the tips have gotten a little spotty. A lot of people are just worried about money right now. And on top of everything, duking it out at the supermarkets has started to feel really dangerous. It just means being around people all the time.

VANEK SMITH: Candy says Instacart hasn’t supplied her with a mask or gloves or hand sanitizer, so she’s had to improvise. She uses Listerine to disinfect her hands and this bleach solution she made up to wipe down boxes. But it doesn’t feel like enough. Candy says she’s terrified. After all, she is the sole provider for her grandson.

ROBERTS: I’m always worried that, you know, what happens if I get sick? We don’t really have a big support system – or what happens if I get sick and then he gets sick? And that’s really scary.

GARCIA: So Candy has to do this awful calculus. In order to limit her exposure, she is doing fewer orders than she used to. But that also means that she is earning less money, which comes with risks of its own for her and for her grandson.

ROBERTS: Today is the first day ever since I’ve been working at Instacart that I don’t have my rent payment because of the way things have been going. And that’s scary, thinking that I might not have a home for him.

VANEK SMITH: Here’s the thing. Workers like Candy might not actually have to work right now. The $2.2 trillion act that Congress just passed allows gig workers to file for unemployment benefits, which they usually can’t because they’re considered independent contractors.

GARCIA: That act included $600 per week for a lot of workers, on top of what they would normally get for unemployment. And that money would be a lifesaver for Candy. But actually getting that money is another issue.

Veena Dubal is a professor of employment law at the University of California, Hastings.

VEENA DUBAL: The last two weeks of figuring this out alongside gig workers has been really confusing, really frustrating and really scary.

VANEK SMITH: Like, you’re a lawyer, and you can’t figure it out.

DUBAL: That’s right. Yeah. I mean, it’s so confusing. I’ve been talking to unemployment insurance experts in the nonprofit world across the country, and everyone is really confused and scared.

VANEK SMITH: Here’s the problem. Most companies, like Walmart, Microsoft – they keep records of their workers – how much they make, how many hours they work, et cetera. So if they lay people off, the government has a record of how much that employee made. And that worker gets paid a portion of their old wage in unemployment benefits from the state.

GARCIA: But companies like Instacart and Lyft do not necessarily keep track of how many hours people work or even who their workers are. So states which are already overwhelmed with unemployment requests will have to sort out how much to pay the gig workers who apply for unemployment.

DUBAL: And that means that workers are going to get this money weeks after other workers. And it is going to be really hard for these already, you know, stretched-thin state departments to create a whole new system.

VANEK SMITH: In the face of all that uncertainty, Veena says a lot of gig workers have just opted to keep working. They cannot afford to risk not getting money for weeks or not getting money at all.

DUBAL: Everyone that I’m talking to that is in the gig economy who is still working desperately wants to stop working. No one rationally wants to put their life on the line. Everyone who is doing so right now is doing so out of economic desperation.

GARCIA: Still, Veena says, this is a powerful moment for gig workers. She says they have been on the margins of the workforce for years. They were typically dispersed and isolated, so they couldn’t really organize. And now they are suddenly finding a community, a voice and a lot of public support and visibility.

VANEK SMITH: Instacart workers went on strike last week, demanding higher pay and protective gear. Instacart says it will provide kits with masks and thermometers and hand sanitizer, as well as bonus payments for shoppers.

DUBAL: And so people are thinking about the health of these workers in a way that they’ve never had to think about before because the health of the gig workers is intertwined with the health of people who are using and benefiting from their labor. And all of a sudden, we also are completely reliant on them. And we have the sort of time and space to think about what they are experiencing on an everyday level and why it is that they’re continuing to work when so many people are not.

GARCIA: Veena thinks gig workers will start to organize more and more and that they’ll be successful at getting what they ask for because at the moment, the companies that employ them really, really need them.

VANEK SMITH: For right now, though, Candy Roberts is just doing what she can. She’s taking on as many hours with Instacart as she can stomach. She’s trying not to worry too much about money, and she’s trying to enjoy the extra time with her grandson.

ROBERTS: He’s right now practicing for his – what they call classroom karaoke so when he goes back to school, he can sing “Joy To The World” to the class.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, “JOY TO THE WORLD”)

THREE DOG NIGHT: (Singing) Singing joy to the world, all the boys…

VANEK SMITH: This episode of THE INDICATOR was produced by Brittany Cronin and Darius Rafieyan. THE INDICATOR’s edited by Paddy Hirsch and is a production of NPR.

Copyright © 2020 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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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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