The On-Demand Economy And Workers On Taps
“In the history of the world, there’s never been a better time to be a consumer in San Francisco or New York than today, what with our cornucopia of cheap, on-demand services.”
The surge in the number of on-demand businesses in the US has generated immense interest, where several start ups have in the recent past sought to crowd-source skills or resources to provide services.
On Demand Economy – The Indian Context
If one removes the mobile app, high-end tech and the frills out of the equation, one finds that on-demand businesses have been running in the country for quite some time to fulfill economic demand, albeit being highly segregated and localized. The local istreewaalah would regularly visit your house to collect your clothes, depositing them back in the evening. Milk, groceries and newspaper would be delivered, electricians and plumbers summoned by calling up nearby establishments or individuals. Dabbawaalahs, a quintessential part of the Mumbai identity, have for years put an end to the hunger pangs of office goers.
The surge in on-demand economy in the US has influenced several players to create similar entities catering to Indian tastes. Olacabs, TaxiForSure and Meru are major players in the transportation sector, competing alongside Uber to capture the Indian market demand. GetMyPeon runs your errands for you from document delivery to bill payment, and LocalBaniya helps you stock up your kitchen. Foodpanda, Holachef and TinyOwl have been striving to maximise their share of the pie in food delivery services.
Shift or Overtime?
Those in favour of this trend have already started predicting the end of traditional shift-based jobs. The Industrial Revolution legacy of a good job being a stable one in a particular company is rapidly being undermined, as low transaction costs and high computing power on smartphones make buying things from the market more cost efficient, as opposed to getting them done internally through hierarchies. The division of labour is being taken to the extreme, and hyper-specialisation seems to be the buzzword of the day. This economy is helping in setting up an osmotic system between those who have time but no money, and those with the moolah but no time to enjoy it. The rise of numerous such start ups promise an exponential increase in the number of contingent workers on their rolls. The ranks of freelancers are being augmented continually by students, single parents, pensioners and the young unemployed.
This has however brought into limelight the myriad ways in which basic benefits accorded to full-time workers such as health, accident insurance, compensation etc. are being denied to the contractual workers. In a country like India, where there are as many as 13 Acts regulating the labour sector, companies still find ways to exploit contract workers. Risks for which earlier companies could be held liable are increasingly being pushed on to individual workers. Expenditure on training, managing and motivating the workers is kept to a minimum. It is for this reason that on-demand businesses have had several run ins with the political and regulatory authorities, as exemplified by the Uber case.
Labour Rights and Wrongs
The stable job routine had led to many worker unions being formed, which sought to bring security, regular wage increments and other benefits for its workers. Now with the advent of the on-demand economy, the structure and the ability of the union to fight for labor rights will be diminished, due to the latent and flexible nature of jobs. The track record of private entities in this regard has unfortunately not been good, but a course correction could be initiated to minimize its fallout and fulfill market demand.
A balancing Act
At the moment, India’s labour laws “resemble a marriage where a divorce is impossible”, which might explain why almost a third of those employed in India have been hired as contract workers. The start up worker who is made to work like a full-time employee and paid a temp’s wage feels the most disenfranchised. The government would need to keep all aspects in mind before effecting a change in the labour laws to create an inclusive system, where contract workers are not merely looked upon as tools but people essential for the growth of the company.
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— Aasaanjobs (@Aasaanjobs) July 11, 2016