Author:- Saumya Dwivedi
The new Code on Social Security , 2020 will replace nine legislation that provided Social Security to the workers like Maternity Benefit Act, Employees’ Provident Fund Act, Employees’ Pension Scheme, Employees’ Compensation Act, among others. The Code aims to supply uniformity in providing Social Security benefits to the workers who were earlier segregated under different acts and had different applicability and coverage. The Code also aims to supply Social Security to a wider group of employees because the code has recognized and covered workers working within the unorganized sector.
Several new concepts like gig workers, platform workers, fixed-term employees etc. are coined which were previously not recognized under any labour legislation. the govt has also published draft rules framed under the Code. An ongoing global conversation on platform workers’ rights has been around the misclassification of platform workers as ‘independent contractors’; adjudications and emerging amendments to labour laws in Ontario and California have shown a move towards granting employee status to platform workers, thus guaranteeing wage and welfare benefits. Through this text, I might wish to discuss the new concepts and therefore the benefits provided to them under the Code.
Platform and Gig Workers
The Code on Social Security Bill, 2020, for the primary time in Indian law, attempted to define ‘platform work’ outside of the normal employment category. It says: “Platform work means a piece arrangement outside of a standard employer-employee relationship during which organisations or individuals use a web platform to access other organisations or individuals to unravel specific problems or to supply specific services or any such other activities which can be notified by the Central Government, in exchange for payment.” While the long-overdue move to recognize platform work, the Code has drawn criticism from platform workers’ associations for failing to delineate it from gig work and unorganised work. A categorical clarification could make sure that Social Security measures are provided to workers without compromising the touted qualities of platform work: flexibility and a way of ownership.
The term gig worker may be a newly introduced concept in India. generally , the term gig worker means someone who takes on hourly or part-time jobs in everything from catering events to software development. The work is typically temporary and completed during a specified time under a nonstandard work arrangement. The Code under Section-2(35) defines the term gig worker as, “a one that performs work or participates during a work arrangement and earns from such activities outside of traditional employer-employee relationships”.
The formal recognition of gig workers was the necessity of the hour because the definition provides an umbrella to an outsized group of temporary workers. One can even be a part-time professor and fit into the gig worker category. Some categories include contingent workers, freelancers and independent contractors etc. The gig economy concept is extremely prominent within the west amongst the youth. The concept allows students to require up jobs at an early age and obtain exposure in their respective fields. the advantages related to such jobs will encourage people in India to interact themselves in such jobs and avail benefits arising out of it.
The term platform worker generally means a worker working for a corporation that gives specific services using a web platform to individuals or organizations. for instance Uber, Ola, Zomato etc. As per the Code, a platform worker means “a person engaged in or undertaking platform work”. to know it better the definition of platform worker has got to be read with the definition of platform work which states that platform work means “a work arrangement outside of a standard employer-employee relationship during which organisations or individuals use a web platform to access other organisations or individuals to unravel specific problems or to supply specific services or any such other activities which can be notified by the Central Government, in exchange for payment.
The Code also mandates for compulsory registration under section 113 of both gig workers also as platform workers on a web portal to avail benefits under the Code which shall be specified by the Central Government. However, this registration is subject to certain conditions, namely:
- He has completed sixteen years aged, but has not attained the age of sixty years;
- The worker has worked for not but ninety days during the preceding twelve years;
- He has submitted a self-declaration electronically or otherwise in such form and in such manner containing such information as could also be prescribed by the Central Government;
- Every eligible unorganised worker, gig worker or platform worker shall make an application for registration in such form alongside such documents including Aadhaar number.
Social Security Benefits
Earlier, the labour laws didn’t provide for any Social Security benefits to the workers working within the unorganized sectors but the Code confers power upon the Central Government to frame welfare schemes for the workers within the unorganized sector under section 114 on the matters associated with
1. Life and disability cover;
2. Accidental insurance;
3. Health and maternity benefits;
4. Old age protection;
5. Creche; and
6. Any other benefit as may be determined by the Central Government.
These schemes may be either wholly funded by the Central Government or partly by the Central Government and partly by the State Government or wholly funded by the contributions of the aggregators or partly by the Central Government and partly by the government and partly funded by the beneficiaries of the scheme or the aggregators or wholly funded by the contributions of the aggregators or funded from corporate social responsibility fund within the meaning of Companies Act, 2013 or through the other source.
Flexibility of the platform workers
The preference for employment status stems from the fact that while platform work promises workers flexibility and ownership over the delivery of work, they are still largely dictated by mechanisms of control wired by the algorithm. This affects pricing per unit of labour, allocation of labour, and hours. Additionally, entry into on-demand platform work like ride-sharing and food delivery are hooked into existing access to vehicular assets. The average Indian worker on a ride-sharing platform has limited access to such capital. So, to enter the platform economy, workers believe in intensive loan schemes, often facilitated by platform aggregator companies. This results in dependence on platform companies, driven by financial obligations, thus rendering flexibility and ownership moot in the short- to middle-term investment cycle.
The role of platform workers amidst the pandemic has presented a strong case to attribute a more strong responsibility to platform aggregator companies and the State. Platform workers were responsible for the delivery of essentials during the pandemic at great personal risk to themselves. They have also been responsible for keeping platform companies floating despite the pandemic-induced financial crisis. This has connected their role as public infrastructures that also sustain demand-driven aggregators. The dependence of companies on platform workers merits a jointly assumed responsibility by public and personal institutions to deliver welfare measures.
Significance of Platform & Gig Workers
Although a reasonably new concept for India, the gig and platform workers became a big a part of the economy.
1. Notwithstanding the drawback of limited access to capital for workers as mentioned above, for a specific class of workers, however, particularly, smallholder agrarian labour migrants with access to vehicular assets, the platform economy is an attractive proposition.
2. Such workers are able to accumulate wealth which they can then invest into farm work.
3. The pandemic has revealed a very significant role that gig and platform workers play in the economy by virtue of their role as delivery drivers and agents. They ensured that basic necessities or essentials were reaching people at their homes.
4. These workers also helped many platform companies remain afloat during the pandemic and the resultant economic downturn.
5. Due to the fast pace of urbanization, this sector has high growth potential.
6. The remittances sent by the platform and gig workers are also contributing to the growth of the rural areas.
7. Such work will also encourage students to take up non-regular work in the market.
8. It would also lessen the burden on employers by helping them avoid taking on employees in the traditional employment structure.
Issues with the Code on Social Security 2020 for Gig Workers
1. Platform workers can claim the benefits provided under the Social Security Code but cannot claim labour rights.
2. They are not entitled to go to court for a stable and better pay package, or against the algorithms used by the platforms that allocate jobs to them.
3. The eligibility criteria for claiming benefits might lead to certain workers being excluded.
4. The Code describes the provision of basic welfare measures as a joint responsibility of the Central government, platform aggregators, and workers. However, it doesn’t state which stakeholder is liable for delivering what quantum of welfare.
5. Some opine that there is an overlap in the definitions of unorganized, gig and platform workers. This makes it unclear how schemes specific to those categories of workers will apply.
6. There seems to be a duality of appropriate governments (central vs state) in certain cases like the provision of social security for unorganized sector workers.
The decision of the United Kingdom Supreme Court on the employment status of the company Uber’s drivers could have implications for the gig economy worldwide.
The case began in 2016 when two drivers of the Uber Company, Yaseen Aslam and James Farar filed a case before the Employment Tribunal contending that drivers should be treated as Employees and not gig workers. The tribunal made a decision in the favour of the drivers, which in October, 2016 was appealed by Uber.
The Appeals Tribunal upheld the ruling of the Employment Tribunal. Thereafter, Uber decided to approach the Court of Appeal where the decision was again upheld. As a last resort, the company moved to the Supreme Court which led to the passing of this landmark judgment on 19 February 2021 wherein the Court confirmed that Uber drivers are to be classified as “workers” under the UK Employment Law and would be entitled to various work benefits which include minimum wages, paid holidays, etc
The introduction of these concepts will lead to providing better work opportunities to students and would promote them to take up non-regular jobs in the market. At an equivalent time, it might be a lessor burden over the employer to not engage in traditional long-term employment commitments with the workers. The new concepts would help in generating several small jobs which can be duly regulated by the labour codes and also provide Social Security to the workers.
Further, it might be evident to ascertain how these sectors are practically regulated and what all schemes does the govt come up with to supply benefits to the workers working as gig and platform workers before making any concrete statement. Although the Code makes an effort to create social security schemes for gig workers and platform operators, in its current context, the Code aims to highlight a number of legal challenges including, the principles set out in various judicial proclamations pertaining to private contractors and head to key relationships, etc. The code describes only the type of benefits that should be provided to that employee, without having the right to guarantee the employer-employee relationship. Detailed rules and regulations pertaining to gig and platform staff, can make things clearer.
Saumya Dwivedi pursuing BBA LLB from Amity University Lucknow.