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Gig economy workers need more protection of their rights

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Three years ago, the chief executive officer of Walmart Doug McMillon said that the Flipkart-Walmart combination would generate 10 million jobs in India. That’s an eye-popping number, roughly equal to India’s annual job creation requirement, and considering the country’s demographic surge. Of course, just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, Flipkart didn’t say these jobs would materialize in one year. They would include direct as well as indirect jobs. These would come from its supply chains, logistics, warehousing and courier services. Also, from small businesses across the country hopping aboard this retail e-commerce intermediary’s platform as suppliers.

Then, last year, a report from the Ola Mobility Institute said that bike taxis had the potential to create two million jobs in India. The stock market’s darling unicorn this year, Zomato, would surely have boasted of large employment generation too. It too is an aggregator that connects 32 million hungry users to 170,000 restaurants and kitchens every month across 500 cities of India. Think of all the delivery guys rushing to beat the 30-minute deadline, and of cooks, the packaging crew and the whole supply chain. Then there are app developers, payments people, advertising folks and social media influencers. The “millions of jobs” story starts making sense.

There’s one hitch, though. These are not ‘jobs’ in the sense of stable and secure employment. These so-called jobs do not provide health insurance, nor pay for overtime, let alone allow you to take sick leave. There is usually no room for wage negotiations, and unions are mostly unheard of or absent. Some years ago, when hail-a-taxi firms like Ola and Uber started cutting back incentives, it pinched drivers badly. They learnt to their dismay that they were working nearly 14 hours a day, seven days a week, to barely be able to make money to pay for EMIs on the car loans they had taken to operate their taxis. So, the drivers (workers) in Mumbai decided to go on ‘strike’. If it weren’t for their genuine distress, it would have been comical. Who were they striking against? Shutting their shop and denying customer service was like shooting themselves in the foot. Cab aggregators were not obliged to cave in to their demands, except maybe to defend their reputation. When the strikers agitated at a local transport commissioner’s office, he had to tell them that he did not regulate the hail-a-taxi business. Only ‘kaali-peeli’ yellow-top cabs were his domain. The moral of this story is that in the gig economy, job creation should be seen as the provision of livelihoods for entrepreneurs.

The age of platform economics has created opportunities that can be a bonanza for small businesses but also entail high uncertainty. It is alright to exhort the youth coming out of India’s burgeoning demography to “be a job giver, not a job seeker”. Unfortunately, it is a catchy but misleading slogan. The fact is that most people want a stable job with a salary at the end of the month. That is not the same as job security. It is about their ability to take risks. Since India has a large population below or near the poverty line, their vulnerability to an income shock (such as caused by illness in the family) is very high. So their risk-handling capacity is low and hence they display risk aversion toward entrepreneurship. Add to it, India lacks social security for the temporarily unemployed. The huge popularity of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme is because it acts as a proxy for unemployment insurance. Witness the huge demand for jobs under it during the pandemic. It also acts as a wage floor in rural areas.

Many farmers would rather seek jobs than subject themselves to the vagaries of weather, volatility of prices, or pests. A national survey revealed that nearly 40% would gladly leave farming if a stable job was available in industry. A recent report indicates that farmers in India are earning more by serving as labour on someone else’s farm than cultivating themselves. But their labour does not get any protection from labour laws. The emerging gig economy is such that there is no employer-employee relationship. Rather, it is more like a business partnership, with gig workers often serving as independent contractors. This is not covered by conventional safeguards, which only apply to labour contracts.

It is as if the corporations that use gig workers do not have any responsibility towards their ‘vendors’, nor do gig workers have any rights. But conditions can become exploitative, like for the cab driver/entrepreneur having to work 14 hours to make just enough to survive. Or the food delivery guy who has to beat a 30-minute deadline, often leaving no time even for bathroom breaks. Such rights on working conditions would be routine under normal labour laws. Nearly 90% of India’s workforce is estimated to be in the unorganized or informal sector. So, much of the labour law framework anyway does not apply to most Indians at work. Also, there is the worrying multi-year trend of the country’s declining labour force participation rate. Are these showing up as ‘contractors’ in the gig economy?

This is where labour market reforms need to be focused. Protect workers, not jobs. Define gig workers as labour and not just contractors or partners. Surely, this much minimal protection of rights is only fair. The pendulum has swung too far away from labour rights in much of the world besotted with a gig economy. It is time to swing it back a little bit.

Ajit Ranade is chief economist at Aditya Birla Group.

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Payfare and Wise to bring money transfer services to the gig workforce

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Payfare, a Canada-based fintech, has partnered with money transfer company Wise to bring their capabilities to the gig economy in North America.

Beginning 2022, the North American gig and contract workers Payfare supports will be able to send money abroad instantly via Wise’s payments infrastructure, directly from Payfare digital banking apps. Payfare, who works with on-demand platforms, will be the first to leverage Wise to enable the growing gig economy to send money internationally.

With its mission of making international money transfers fast, cheap and convenient, Wise helps people and businesses move and spend money in over 56 currencies. With price transparency, including low cost pricing, and the use of real-time exchange rates, Wise aligns with Payfare’s mission to augment financial inclusion for the global gig economy.

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the gig economy of clinical trials

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Hawthorne Effect is a startup that uses a gig economy model to recruit medical professionals and conduct clinical trials whenever is most convenient.

Jodi Akin, the CEO and founder, has curated more than 1,500 medical professionals to meet patients at their homes, a nursing home or even a hotel room to collect blood work, run labs and check-in on patients. Here along with physician assistant Lisa Taxin Porter, they tell us why this model is more effective compared to traditional clinical trials. 

Why did decided found Hawthorne Effect? 
Akin: I founded Hawthorne Effect after almost 27 years of leading, designing, and operationalising clinical research globally. During that time, I started to realise that patient follow-ups were problematic to the success of clinical trials. I worried that without patients’ ability to return to the trial site — we wouldn’t be able to collect representative and accurate follow-up data.

Many trials require patients to come back anywhere from two to five times for additional data whether it be blood, echocardiograms, or other complex evaluation procedures. And, a lack of robust data could lead to delays in bringing new medical therapies to patients who needed them most. The main principle that led to the founding of Hawthorne Effect was to conduct complete, complex assessments whenever, wherever, and however the trial and patient require to deliver trusted and timely data to the investigators. 

What are the main challenges to conducting clinical trials?
Akin: Historically, clinical trials led to many breakthroughs in healthcare and medicine, however, trials weren’t always representative of diverse populations, leading to further widening of the equity gap in medicine and healthcare. Oftentimes, socio-economic and geographical barriers limit patients’ engagement in trial participation.

What are the consequences of this on drug development?

Akin: The main goal of clinical trials is to enroll a diverse and representative population so that new medical recommendations can be generalised across such groups. These barriers are a well-known problem in the industry and despite efforts and initiatives over the past three decades to increase diversity in clinical trials, not a lot of progress has been made.

Still today,  Black, Latino, Native American and Asian populations represent 0.5% to < 5% of study populations on average, which is far less than their representation of our population as a whole. Why this happens all boils down to access, and access alone is multilayered: geo-local (clinical trials don’t happen where patients live), economic (financial burden of patient follow up visits such as travel and copays), scheduling (clinics provide limited windows and hours for visits, competing with work, life, etc), and more importantly, cultural and trust barriers.

Furthermore, clinical trials must go on until clinicians collect enough robust data to submit to regulatory bodies such as the FDA for review, which is tough to accomplish as 50% of trials end with missed patient visits and/or patients dropping out completely. I also believe participants may not be aware that their involvement in trials can not only provide them with access to care but that they also may have a tremendous impact on the future of medicine, touching billions of people. 

What has the pandemic highlighted about clinical trials? What impact has it had, if any, on the way trials are conducted?
Akin: The pandemic accentuated the clinical trial continuity challenge, especially since clinical trials experienced a 70% decline in enrolment and an increased rate of missed or incomplete study visits during this time.

This further cemented the need for decentralised clinical trial solutions like Hawthorne Effect and the enablement of remote clinical visits (in-person and virtually) that put patient experience first. At the end of the day, decentralised clinical trials offer patients improved access and enable researchers to mitigate access barriers by conducting trial assessments anywhere, compared with trials that require patients to continually travel to that site. We’ve found that patients are more willing to engage in a trial long-term if they’re able to do so on their own time and turf. 

What is the gig economy model as it applies to clinical trials? 
Akin: Hawthorne Effect follows the gig economy model by bringing clinical trials to patients through its global network of Heroes, composed of medical professionals that are specifically curated, certified, and trained for clinical trial visits in-person and virtually.  Heroes are there to support patients on their own terms throughout the clinical trial lifecycle and carry out complex evaluations, such as blood work, physical and neurological assessments, and more, in the comfort of the patient’s home or any other remote locations of their choosing.

This model reduces patient burdens as they no longer have to travel long distances and schedule follow-up appointments to participate in potentially life-saving clinical trials. Even if patients have no internet access, Hawthorne Effect is able to collect data. We’ve found that by providing a decentralised solution patients are more likely to complete the trial, which results in robust data that we can collect to continue to make an impact in medicine, research, and healthcare in general. 

Porter: The gig economy model that Hawthorne Effect has adopted allows Heroes like me to supplement their income by choosing to accept clinical trial follow-up visits. We get notified by the Hawthorne Effect App that a patient visit is needed. The assignment will list the distance, compensation, and the necessary certifications needed to conduct the visit.

We select our availability out of multiple dates and times. If it’s a match with the patient’s availability, then we get a notification that we’ve been selected! The app is very user-friendly. If you are a medical provider and want to work on your day off or get more hours in, Hawthorne Effect’s gig economy model allows you to “pick up” visits as it fits into your schedule. I’ve never been a 9-5 worker and this model gives me the flexibility and options to pick up additional work whenever I want.

Can this model help to ensure more diverse groups of participants? 
Akin: Yes, Hawthorne Effect’s Heroes network is spread out and can meet patients anywhere, which removes the geographical barrier that many patients face. This changes the model of participation by addressing these barriers not only for ethnic diversity but also gender, age, and other considerations.

The healthcare industry may be resistant to change but this model is making progress to include more diverse populations in the future of medical technologies. We do not have to sacrifice the quantity or quality of data in clinical trials, just because patients aren’t in physical investigation sites.

We are creating infrastructure to better optimise the entire clinical trial ecosystem and embracing technology for better data capture. This effort will, of course,  require better collaboration between technology, health systems, industry, regulators, and the ultimate stakeholder – patients.

Porter: I believe this model does allow for a more diverse group of participants. Hawthorne Effect Heroes are able to accommodate patients located all over the country, in urban and rural settings. I’ve been offered to take visits in many interesting places, and I live in Philadelphia!

As far as what else can be done, it’s getting the word out. I bet there are providers that are eager to further their impact in the medical field in all areas of the country that don’t know that an option like Hawthorne Effect exists.

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The CEO of Instacart challenger Point Pickup wants to save the gig economy – and win over workers – by making gig work a dependable job with perks

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Point Pickup and its national network of 350,000 drivers make deliveries for Walmart, Kroger, and other major grocers.

  • Point Pickup CEO Tom Fiorita said the gig work his delivery company relies on isn’t sustainable.
  • He’s launching a digital platform to increase transparency and community for retail gig workers.
  • The platform, GigPoint, is in an invite-only beta test now and will fully launch later in the fall.

For the founder and CEO of a gig economy delivery company, Tom Fiorita has surprisingly little faith in the gig economy.

Fiorita calls his outfit, Point Pickup, the largest delivery company nobody’s heard of. Founded in 2015, its national network of 350,000 drivers make deliveries for Walmart, Kroger, and other major grocers. Its drivers and shoppers, and millions like them who work for Shipt, Instacart, DoorDash, and more, take on work one task – or gig – at a time.

Retailers have rapidly adopted the model throughout the pandemic as delivery became an essential service. And though their conditions vary, Fiorita said the group as a whole must change to survive.

That’s because the gig economy, while meeting the challenge of lightning-fast delivery, presents new problems. Workers are siloed from one another and contend with a lack of consistency or transparency – they often don’t know how much they’ll earn by day’s end when they start. They don’t have a central place to go for community or financial services tailored to their needs.

“The current way it’s being done, we believe, is not sustainable in the future,” Fiorita said.

That’s why he’s launching GigPoint, an online platform for gig workers that aims to make this kind of work a viable way of life in the long-term – and a viable business model.

The platform has launched an invitation-only beta test offering insurance purchasing, banking services, and a rewards system where workers earn points to exchange for cash bonuses, vacations, and discounts. The full version will launch for all Point Pickup drivers in the fall, and expand to the entire gig ecosystem in the future.

‘The system’s gonna break’

The pressure is on to make gig work a better gig. Workers don’t often stay loyal to any given platform, and retaining gig workers tends to be harder than recruiting them to start with.

“We see it all the time, they end up bopping around,” Fiorita said. He sees that “bopping around” as a threat to his company and the broader industry of gig delivery.

“It’s gonna break,” he said. “There’s too much fragmentation.”

The GigPoint platform aims to encourage workers to keep coming back with features the company said address workers’ top priorities, including financial services like microloans and the ability to work out recurring shifts with predictable income.

“Everything you need to be successful at gig work and be sustainable so you can continue to do it for a long period of time,” Fiorita said.

‘A wave we cannot stop’

Major gig players like Instacart, DoorDash, and Postmates could all eventually be GigPoint clients, Fiorita said. So could retailers that don’t currently use gig workers. He aims to grow the platform into a digital hub for work that’s increasingly being outsourced to gig workers, like counting inventory, seasonal cashier work, and resetting store displays.

GigPoint platform could be a homebase for any kind of retail gig, Fiorita said, with a more mindful and “caring” approach.

The company has yet to work out the finer points of how the platform will work. “We are working with gig worker focus groups now to determine the best business model,” a spokesperson told Insider. “We’re also discussing models with our retail clients – but not ready to discuss details at this time.”

Still, the overall approach could benefit the gig companies, too, since the legal challenges to gig work are unlikely to stop.

“It’s a wave that we cannot stop. I think the government knows it,” Fiorita said. “We’re enabling the ability for true flex work as an actual classification of a worker in this country.”

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