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A Gurugram gig-economy worker struggles with unsafe demands and fears of a bad rating

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In 2019, Scroll.in’s Hard Times series sought to explain and illustrate how India’s slowest economic growth in a decade was affecting ordinary people. This followed reporting by Scroll.in in 2016 and 2017 on the effects that demonetisation had on the lives of Indians around the country.

As the world continues to grapple with the Covid-19 crisis, Hard Times now takes a look at the impact of India’s draconian lockdown on individuals and firms from all corners of the economy. Read all of the pieces in the Lockdown Hard Times series here.

One reason the Covid-19 crisis has proven to be extremely difficult for many businesses is that customers are worried about their safety – and so are fearful of stepping out. That may be a boon for companies that offer services at home, but for 27-year-old Yasmin Yadav, it has become an added source of worry.

Yadav, who lives in Gurugram, works as a beautician associated with Urban Company, an at-home services provider that was previously known as Urban Clap. Despite the pandemic and the widespread awareness of how the virus spreads, Yadav says that many of her customers simply refuse to follow the guidelines.

“Most of the clients that I have served since the lockdown was lifted refused to wear face masks. Their argument is that they are in their own houses, so they do not need to wear masks. I am always supposed to wear protective gear while serving the clients, but what good are precautions that are only followed at one end?” Yadav told Scroll.in. “You cannot argue with these clients. Many of them will spoil our ratings out of spite. For a business that runs on how we are rated by our clients, the situation is very tough.”

Gig economy

Yadav has been working with Urban Company in Gurugram, Haryana for two years now. Before that, she owned her own salon in the city, but shut it soon after she saw that her prospects were better with the internet-based services provider.

The pandemic-necessitated lockdown has exposed the vulnerability of relying on a gig platform like this for her livelihood. Any inconvenience to clients, however minor, can result in a number of implications: bad ratings, warnings from the company and compulsory retraining.

“It seems like taking precautions and keeping ourselves safe is entirely our responsibility,” she said. “No action is taken against the clients availing the services even if they mistreat us. One client wanted me to give her a facial without wearing gloves. She asked me to wash my hands two-three times and remove the gloves. I had to try very hard to convince her that I am not allowed to operate as per her wish. Am I expected to risk my life because one client asked me to bend a rule for her?”

‘No work at all’

Yadav used to earn around Rs 7,000-Rs 8,000 per day before the pandemic derailed the business, catering to around five or six requests daily. This has now come down to a couple per day.

Even after the lockdown has been lifted, there are some days when there is no work at all,” she said. According to her, Urban Company takes a fixed percentage of the earnings of its associates as its fee, which ranges from 5% to 30% of the total earnings from each client.

“To help us during the lockdown, Urban Company rolled out a policy to give us a loan of Rs 5,000 when the business was shut,” Yadav said. “For those who choose to take the loan, it is supposed to be repaid within six months of resuming business and will attract no interest. But, how much can you do in Rs 5,000 in a city like Gurugram?”

Her savings before the pandemic put her in a decent position to survive during the lockdown despite no regular earnings, taking care of her rent, the monthly installment for her flat in Gurugram and her LIC insurance. “I was comfortable because I had savings, but many people in my circle were not,” she said. “I am aware that this time is hard on them, especially for the single mothers I know.”

The Urban Company reportedly rolled out a policy to arrange for a doctor’s consultation and to give its associates Rs 250 for each day they remained home if unwell.

Even though the nationwide lockdown that lasted for over two months resulted in near-exhaustion of her savings, Yadav still thinks that it should have been extended for a couple of months more. Expressing her fear of working while the pandemic is raging, Yadav said, “What will we do with the money when there is no life?”

Read the other articles in this series here.



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Labor Groups, San Francisco Push Bogus Taxpayer-Funded Survey to Support Anti-Gig Law

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A liberal advocacy group’s own researchers raised red flags about a taxpayer-funded study used to justify a union campaign against the California gig economy.

The San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission helped fund a survey conducted by Jobs with Justice, a left-wing advocacy group largely funded by labor powerhouse Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The survey reported that 71 percent of gig workers in the San Francisco area work more than 30 hours a week and receive “poverty level” wages. According to the group’s website, Jobs with Justice planned to use the survey to “make policy recommendations and support organizing” among gig workers. The survey’s summary page emphasizes the need to enforce anti-gig labor laws.

Left-wing labor group Gig Workers Rising has used the survey to rally in support of California Assembly Bill 5, a controversial law limiting companies’ ability to classify workers as independent contractors. The group called the study “the most comprehensive survey of actual work done” in the gig economy. Internal communications obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, however, reveal that the survey was pitched to potential financial backers as “not representative,” and an academic researcher involved in the study voiced concerns regarding Jobs with Justice’s recruitment tactics.

While the study initially called for 1,200 survey respondents, Jobs with Justice narrowed the scope following the spread of coronavirus, pivoting to an online survey focusing on the pandemic that aimed to reach just 500 respondents.

“The goal behind an online survey of 500 workers, while not representative, would be to turn around data quickly … in order to inform current policy discussions,” an internal description of the updated survey obtained by the Free Beacon said. It went on to reach just 219 respondents.

Pacific Research Institute senior fellow Wayne Winegarden criticized the study’s methodology, calling the survey’s results “meaningless.”

“The survey is not representative of the intended population with the original goal of 500 responses,” Winegarden told the Free Beacon. “The study did not reach this amount, having only 219 responses. So, in no uncertain terms do these results represent the view of gig workers.”

The study also downplayed Jobs with Justice’s involvement in an attempt to bolster its academic appeal. While the published survey lists UC Santa Cruz professor Chris Benner as the project’s lead, Jobs with Justice executive director Kung Feng is described as “leading” the project in internal emails obtained by the Free Beacon. The emails also show that the online survey was written by the group’s research director, Erin Johansson. Benner merely “edited the wording in a few questions,” according to the internal communications.

Benner, who did not return request for comment, also raised concerns regarding Jobs with Justice’s incentive plan to provide a gift card to all survey respondents.

“One, I’m not sure where the budget for that comes from, and two, with an online survey, it leaves open lots of opportunities for people to game it,” Benner wrote in a March 17 email to Johansson.

Following the academic’s objection, Gig Workers Rising continued to advertise the survey in an April tweet by saying respondents would “get a $10 gift card.” A Jobs with Justice invoice for the study listed $45,181 in “survey costs,” including “incentives and app payments.” While the published study lists the gig economy companies each of the survey’s 219 respondents work for, internal data obtained by the Free Beacon shows that 91 of the respondents did not report their company, suggesting some may have been non-gig workers who completed the survey for the incentive.

The invoice was sent to San Francisco Local Agency Formation Commission executive officer Bryan Goebel, who solicited funding for the study on Jobs with Justice’s behalf, internal emails show. Reached for comment, Goebel said the coronavirus-related study “was never intended to be” representative and that $50,000 in taxpayer funds were used only for the “initial pilot survey” launched prior to coronavirus. The final study combined the results of both the pilot survey and coronavirus-related survey, a methodological red flag, according to Winegarden.

“In the midst of the survey being in the field, they stopped the survey, reworked it to account for the coronavirus, and then continued with the survey,” Winegarden told the Free Beacon. “These results from before and after cannot be compared to one another.”

Goebel also told the Free Beacon that Benner “was indeed the overall lead” on the study, adding that Jobs with Justice simply “led the outreach.” He did not address the fact that the coronavirus-related survey was drafted by Jobs with Justice.

Charlyce Bozzello, a spokeswoman for labor watchdog the Center for Union Facts, said activist front groups often misuse research to advance their ideological goals.

“For years, unions have used flawed ‘research’ to support their organizing campaigns, so it’s no surprise to see Jobs with Justice involved in this project,” she told the Free Beacon. “What is surprising is that the city of San Francisco and UC Santa Cruz would lend their names to this charade.”

Other gig economy studies dispute Jobs with Justice’s findings. A Cornell University study published Monday found that 96 percent of Uber and Lyft drivers in Seattle drove less than 40 hours a week. It further found that 92 percent made more than Seattle’s minimum wage of $16.39, with the media driver earning $23.25 per hour after deducting expenses.

Jobs with Justice and Gig Workers Rising did not respond to requests for comment.

Collin AndersonCollin Anderson is a staff writer for the Washington Free Beacon. He graduated from the University of Missouri, where he studied politics. He is originally from St. Louis and now lives in Arlington, VA. His email address is anderson@freebeacon.com.



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Why the Uber driver case has the potential to alter Canada’s gig economy forever

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Article content continued

Heller was a driver for UberEats who argued that he was an employee, not an independent contractor. That meant Uber owed him overtime, vacation, holiday pay, as well as other entitlements.

The Supreme Court didn’t answer the question of whether Heller and other Uber drivers were employees or not, so in that respect the real issue lies ahead. But it did remove an important roadblock, paving the way for a potentially $400 million lawsuit.

Tucked away in the contractor agreement that every Uber driver must sign before they can start working is an arbitration clause.

The clause required drivers to bring any problems to arbitration in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and not to an Ontario court. The arbitration in Amsterdam would cost around $14,000 in administrative fees up front, as well as the cost of transport and legal representation in the Netherlands. Something no Uber driver could even possibly afford. Take Heller himself, who earns around $400 to $600 a week for 40 or more hours of work.

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Gig Economy Ballot Measure Fails Workers, Labor Groups Say (1)

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Daily Labor Report®

July 7, 2020, 8:45 PM

A California ballot measure supported by ride-hailing and delivery companies would lower workers’ wages and limit the power of legislators to institute new labor protections, according to a new report from two labor advocacy groups.

Proposition 22, known as the “Protect App-Based Drivers and Services Act,” will appear before California voters in November and is backed by $110 million from Uber, Lyft, Postmates, Instacart and Doordash. The companies say their workers want to preserve their status as independent contractors, while the National Employment Law Project and the Partnership for Working Families counter that the proposition would roll back existing protections under a state law giving certain gig workers…

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