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Pathways for legislative interventions for protecting platform-based gig workers works in India

The Union Government had notified four labour codes on wages, industrial relations, social security and occupational safety, in 2019-2020, to consolidate the regulatory framework for labour in India. However, these codes fail to adequately address a fast-growing sector of the economy, viz. the on–demand digital platform-based gig economy. Of the four codes, only the Code on Social Security, 2020 includes platform workers within its scope, but it merely requires the state and central governments to devise schemes intended to provide for social security, without imposing any obligations on the platforms or aggregators which engage platform-based gig  workers.

In order to address this legislative gap, Vidhi Karnataka and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), in collaboration with the Indian Federation of App-Based Transport Workers (IFAT), had organised a roundtable discussion on the question of legislative interventions for on-demand platform work in India in October 2022. A background note was prepared for the roundtable discussion, outlining important facets of the platform economy and the inadequacies of the current legal framework.

The three-session roundtable aimed to consult experts and stakeholders such as trade union representatives, researchers, academics, and lawyers, to invite ideas and contributions on the various facets of platform regulation. 

  • The first session on occupational health, safety, and working conditions explored current labour laws (including the new labour codes) and the scope of their applicability to platform work. The issues highlighted by the discussants included impediments to worker organisation, exploitative work practices, and challenges faced by women platform workers. 
  • The second session focussed on issues of algorithmic transparency and data protection, particularly the need to shift from mere algorithmic transparency to standard-setting. The issues raised were the overriding of labour protections through control by opaque algorithms, absence of data sharing with workers in relation to the quantum of work and client ratings among others. 
  • The third and final session discussed global developments in the regulation of platform work, and identified issues such as the difficulties in regularising platform workers through standard employment contracts, barriers to legal reform and the role of the judiciary.

The roundtable brought to light the need for legislative interventions to protect platform workers in India, the most significant example of which is the recent Platform Based Gig Workers (Registration and Welfare) Act, 2023 enacted by Rajasthan. Since the labour codes enacted by Parliament do not address platform work, states have the opportunity to pave the way for the protection of platform workers,  since ‘labour welfare’ is a concurrent subject under the Constitution.

In July 2023, the Government of Rajasthan sought comments from the public on the Rajasthan Platform Based Gig Workers (Registration and Welfare) Bill, 2023 (“the Bill”). This Bill provided for social security security measures for platform based gig workers to be implemented by a Welfare Board. 

The passing of this Bill made the State of Rajasthan the first to provide for entitlements and benefits of gig workers through a statute. With the advent and growth of the platform economy, there is an urgent need to protect gig workers who are most vulnerable in this setup. It must be ensured that the working conditions of gig workers do not significantly change merely because the nature of the working relationship in platform economies is different.  

While this Bill was a step in the right direction, a number of serious issues remain. Vidhi had submitted comments to the Department of Labour, Government of Rajasthan on the  proposed Bill. Our submissions are available here.

The background note, roundtable discussions and submissions made by Vidhi, mentioned in this article, are a part of Vidhi Karnataka’s ongoing research on regulating the gig economy.

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