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Gig economy workers need EU to end digital modern-day slavery

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It is so easy – with one click on your smart phone you can order food delivered to your doorstep, a car to take you places or a cleaner to tidy your home. During the pandemic we have grown even more accustomed to these nice conveniences of modern life. But how do they affect the lives of the people behind the app, who provide these valuable services to us?

Take the Uber driver who does not get any customers and gets stuck with the bills for the fuel and the car insurance.

Or the Deliveroo driver who can’t work after a bike accident delivering food and does not receive any sick pay. Or the Helpling cleaner getting harassed who does not know where to turn to for support.

The apps neatly hide the real story of the workers, too often deprived of fair wages, denied social insurance, declined paid leave and decent working conditions.

Pay can be very low, insecure and unpredictable, especially when workers are paid by the task and not by the hour, when they have to shoulder long, unpaid waiting times and bear the costs for working materials, as well as the fees for the platform.

The trick platforms use to keep their costs low is to claim these workers are self-employed.

With slogans like ‘be your own boss’ or ‘full flexibility’, they mask the fact that bogus self-employment leaves these modern day-labourers in a very precarious situation.

It’s a business model that allows some of the richest companies on the planet to outsource their business risk onto workers and taxpayers. Because when things go wrong – the worker falls sick or has an accident – then the worker is left in the rain and society has to step in.

To make things even worse, companies offering their employees full social protection and decent pay simply cannot compete with the low prices of platforms engaged in social dumping.

We want to change the game of the gig company.

Not by taking away the nice convenience so many have come to depend on to keep our busy lives running. And not because we are adverse to technological innovation and want to turn back the clock. On the contrary, the capacity of platforms to match supply and demand in real time should have useful applications for public services too, for example in the homework sector for children.

But, how we treat some of the most vulnerable people in today’s economy will shape the kind of society we will live in.

The digital revolution is turning our world upside down. It changes the way we work, produce, consume, love and live in ways unseen since the last industrial revolution. We are called upon to ensure that technological progress translates into social progress for all.

It cannot be workers who pay the price for digital innovations by sacrificing their hard-won rights on the altar of the gig economy, while some digital companies get even richer.

In 2019, the digital labour platforms generated $52bn [€44bn] globally. Just as we tamed the last industrial revolution, we must again make sure that we put people first – by passing the laws to protect them.

This is why we are calling on the European Commission to urgently propose legislation that will better protect platform workers.

Misclassified, fragmented

Currently, platform work is considered a non-standard form of employment. As a consequence, platform workers are misclassified as self-employed and denied the decent working conditions and social rights which are standard for all other workers, like minimum wages or paid leave.

As national rules are fragmented and insufficient, and platforms often operate across borders, targeted action at the EU level is needed. Alongside our efforts to hold digital companies accountable in the Digital Services Act, we need EU legislation to protect platform workers.

Some of the platform workers are, of course, genuinely self-employed and their rights must be protected, too. Our goal is to improve working conditions for all platform workers and combat bogus self-employment.

The solution is really quite simple: in principle, all platform workers must be considered as employees.

It must be assumed that an employment relationship exists with the platform, entailing full social and worker’s rights. It should be up to the platforms to demonstrate the contrary. If the platform companies disagree, it is up to them to prove that no employment relationship exists with the worker.

In a nutshell, it is all about reversing the burden of proof.

In recent years, platform work has grown tremendously. One in ten Europeans has already performed platform work. If we do not step in to protect some of the most vulnerable workers in today’s economy, we risk precarious work spreading to other sectors.

Better protecting platform workers is a crucial piece to tame the digital revolution and ensure technological progress delivers social progress for all.

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Workers

Need for greater clarity in Labour Codes to accommodate gig workers: Industry

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While the pandemic and onset of technology has created new opportunities of employment such as work from home, part time employment, contract workers, and gig workers, it has also provided opportunities to women and students to reap the benefits of the digital wave. However, as we find new job opportunities on the rise, the traditional avenues have been severely affected by the pandemic. In this regard, it will be critical to have a coherent and well thought out Labour Code.

The new Labour Codes have a unique opportunity to foster recovery. It is imperative to find balance and provide accommodative support to the new forms of employment. The labour codes need to recognize small contract labourers and businesses and make provisions for them.

Lack of uniformity and varied regulations at the state level have had an impact on other aspects of employment as well. These variations are disruptive to businesses with operations across various states and may result in workload disparity and deterioration in quality of the production. The rules skirt over the realities of the digital economy and seek to transpose legacy regulation and limitation on growth. In line with this, Mr. Kazim Rizvi, Founding Director, The Dialogue, was of the opinion that, “Businesses, especially small organisations and startups, are still coming out of the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. The labour laws, if implemented in the current form, will not only increase the pressure and compliance burden on the companies but also affect their financial output. The role of gig workers is vital in this new economy, and provisions must be made towards giving them adequate compensation and recognition.”

The Panelists highlighted some key focus areas such as flexibility in work hours, need for clarity in the definition of core activity, social security for the gig workers and taking into account emerging job models that need consideration to help guide the discourse towards an enabling framework. Centre, state and other stakeholders have to work together in order to ensure that maximum benefits are accrued to the gig workers while being mindful that businesses are not overburdened. Given the subject matter these codes regulate, there is a constant need of dialogue among the stakeholders to improve the legislation while securing the workforce.

Speaking on this, Mr. Ram Rastogi, Digital Payments Strategist, stressed that, “The e-commerce platforms have revenue-sharing arrangements with the people on their platforms. Thus, there needs to be a differentiation for people working full-time and people working in flexible models. Labour codes shouldn’t deter industries that are performing well and consider a performance-based pay model.”

He further stated, “Gig workers do the most hard work and make only a small fraction of what permanent workers make. Policymakers should think about them before coming out with the codes and should encourage state governments to work on policies for them.”

Suchita Dutta, Executive Director, India Staffing Federation, “Formal Contract work and employment is growing in India. It is helping people pick up new skills and become more industry relevant. While Formal contract labour is well protected for social security and all applicable labour laws including wages, the Gig workers still find the similar format of protection. To realise the full potential of the labour codes, there needs to be continuous dialogue across the sectors to tap the maximum impact for the benefit of gig workers.”

Avik Biswas, Partner, Indus Law, “The gig economy workers, for the first time, has been statutorily recognized in India. While the objective of the Codes vis-à-vis the gig economy can be predicted given the way several international regulations on this subject has been structured, we are however still at a stage where a lot more clarity is required on the operative parts of the regulations and how they would substantively affect both companies and workers alike. The obvious way forward appears to be the necessity of a constant dialogue and consultation between the government, employers and other relevant stakeholders.”

There is a need for the government to acknowledge the various types of workforces across different sectors. The one-size-fits-all approach may not work since the codes haven’t taken into account rising digital industries such as e-commerce. Additionally, this code might be exclusionary in nature to the small businesses and gig workers in the country especially in states like Maharashtra where people receive work on contractual basis. Hence, it is essential to examine the grey areas in the codes and rework the same.

Published on: Wednesday, September 22, 2021, 08:26 PM IST

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Singapore looks into more protection for gig workers

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An advisory committee expects to provide recommendations that require legislative change by the second half of next year.

A newly formed committee in Singapore will be looking into more protection for gig workers, in the areas of retirement and housing adequacy, work injury financial protection and bargaining power.

The advisory committee expects to be done with the work by the second half of 2022, with a possible end goal of putting out recommendations that require legislative change, said Senior Minister of State for Manpower Koh Poh Koon. 

“It could well be a set of tripartite guidelines, for example, to guide either workers or platform operators on what is the expected behaviour… It may well be other things that require legislative changes to bring into effect; some of the measures that need to be secured and guarded by law to give adequate legal protection,” he said, reports the Business Times. 

“Or it could well be something that we leave to the union, for example, to have the flexibility to negotiate with the platform operators, because the situation can evolve; platform business models can change as well, so we do not want everything to be a one-size-fits-all.”

READ: Singapore urges SMEs to adapt, build workforce for post-pandemic

The committee is focused on three groups of gig workers: delivery workers, private-hire car drivers and taxi drivers. It comprises industry experts, academics and government representatives, and is headed by Goh Swee Chen, chairperson of the Institute for Human Resource Professionals.

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Help gig workers get social security benefits: Plea in SC | India News

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NEW DELHI: A petition has been filed seeking intervention of the Supreme Court in helping secure social security benefits for gig workers engaged by Uber, Ola Cabs, Swiggy, Zomato and other app based service providers.
The petition, jointly filed by a registered union and a federation of trade unions representing app-based transport and delivery workers, and two individual drivers who have worked with Ola Cabs and Uber, alleged that denial of social security like pension and health insurance to them is violation of their right to life and right against forced labour. “The present petition is being filed raising questions of the great public and constitutional importance namely whether the ‘Right to Social Security’ is a guaranteed fundamental right for all working people- whether employed in the formal or informal sectors,” the petition, settled by senior advocate Indira Jaising, said.
“It is the case of the Petitioners herein who are known as gig workers and platform workers that they are in an employment relationship with the aggregators and hence covered by the definition of ‘workman’ within the meaning of all the applicable social security legislations including: The Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923; The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947; The Employee’s State Insurance Act, 1948; Employee’s Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952; The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961; The Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 and ‘Unorganised Workers’ Social Welfare Security Act, 2008’,” it said.
The petition seeking SC’s direction to Centre said the mere fact that their employers call themselves “aggregators” and enter into so-called “partnership agreements” does not take away from the fact that there exists a relationship of employer and employee between them “At present these workers are not being provided the benefit of social security under any of the labour legislations. This defeats the very purpose of the social- welfare legislations, which seek to ensure social security-a facet the right to work and livelihood on decent conditions of work under Article 21 of the Constitution,” it said.
“These legislations have been enacted pursuant to the Directive Principles of State Policy with a view to ensuring basic human dignity to the workers. The inaction on part of the State in ensuring social security to the “gig workers” and “platform workers” notwithstanding the existence of the said laws, is the clearest violation of Article 21 apart from a violation of Article 14 and Article 23 of the Constitution.



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