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Do Gig Workers Have Access To Social Security In India?

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The majority of India’s labour force operates in the informal sector, with the share of informal employment estimated at about 90% in 2018–19, and the share of total employment in the unorganised sector estimated at about 80% based on the Accountability Initiative’s analysis of the Periodic Labour Force Survey.

Further, only 26% of regular salaried earners and casual labourers have access to one or more social security benefits among Provident Fund, pension, gratuity, healthcare benefits and maternity benefits. Of them, just 29% were eligible for paid leave. The precarious nature of informal employment, combined with low social security coverage, has left many workers vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes gig economy workers.

Who Are Gig Economy Workers?

Taxi Driver
Representative Image. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Gig workers have become ubiquitous during the pandemic in urban areas — driving taxis and delivering food or shopping parcels. The gig economy is characterised as an extension of the informal labour economy, with digital gig workers (e.g. for data labelling) and physical gig workers (e.g. ride-sharing, food delivery) able to access gig work through technological platforms.

The bargaining power of workers is typically curtailed through lack of relationships with fellow gig workers as well as information asymmetry with platform providers (wherein platforms alone hold information on the availability of workers, workers’ performances, and a client’s willingness to pay).

The gig economy is likely to become a larger segment of the informal sector in the next decade. The Boston Consulting Group estimates a potential growth to 90 million gig workers in India over the next 8 to 10 years.

With the gig economy redefining the nature of employer-employee relationships and worker rights, it is critical to include gig workers in regulatory frameworks and social security coverage.

Gig Workers Have Limited Access To Regulatory Frameworks

Four key labour law codes for workers are discussed below, with only one Code recognising gig workers:

  • The Industrial Relations Code (2020) applies only to employees working in an industrial establishment. This excludes gig workers who lack a uniform place of employment. Thus, provisions around unionisation, collective bargaining and fair hiring and firing procedures are not applied for gig workers.
  • The Occupational Health, Safety and Working Conditions Code (2020) makes no mention of gig workers. This is troubling, especially in the context of many gig workers putting themselves at risk during the pandemic and continuing to work during lockdowns.
  • The Code on Wages (2019) excludes gig workers, thus, excluding the right to a minimum wage.
  • The last one is the Code on Social Security (2020), discussed in further detail below.
food delivery zomato
Representative Image. Source: flickr

The Code on Social Security (2020) makes provisions for gig economy workers, mandating that the Union and state governments frame and notify relevant welfare schemes. These would provide life and disability cover, health and maternity benefits, old age protection, education, provident funds, injury benefits and other types of measures. A registration mechanism for gig workers and helplines to aid access to social security schemes are envisioned.

The Code on Social Security recommends that schemes be funded through a combination of contributions from Union and state governments, as well as gig platform aggregators. The contribution to be paid by aggregators is envisioned at 1 to 2% of total aggregator turnover, but not more than 5% of the total amount paid by aggregators to gig workers.

As outlined in the Code on Social Security, the National Social Security Board will have oversight of the welfare of gig economy workers. It will include five representatives from aggregator companies and five representatives of gig workers. The Code also mandates that the Union government establish a Social Security Fund for gig economy workers.

While a promising step in the direction of providing social security for gig economy workers, the Code on Social Security does not elaborate on the scope, nature, funding mechanism or minimum goals for gig workers. Further, the implementation of the Code has been deferred beyond the intended deadline of 1 April 2021.

Gig Workers Need Social Security More Than Ever Post-Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has had economic repercussions, with the unemployment rate rising to a high of 23.52% in April 2020, and gradually increasing from 6.52% in January 2021 to 11.9% in May 2021 in the face of the second wave of the pandemic. The largest impact has been on informal workers, who saw a 22.6% reduction in wages compared to a 3.6% reduction for formal workers.

survey of gig economy workers in September 2020 reveals that nearly 90% of Indian gig workers lost income during the pandemic, with more than a third making less than ₹5,000 a month in August 2020.

Thus, it will be important to keep track of the implementation of social security schemes for gig economy workers as outlined in recent legislation.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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