In recent years the number of gig workers has increased rapidly in most countries. While the need has been for ensuring better social security and welfare benefits to more workers, the trend has been in the opposite direction due to gig workers accounting for a major share of the increase in new workforce. In India the gig workers already number over 8 million and their number is expected to increase very fast to about 24 million in the year 2030, according to recent estimates. In such a situation the challenge of providing a fair deal to gig workers has been engaging the attention of labor welfare departments in many parts of the world.
It is at this juncture that the Rajasthan state government in has done very well to create new hope for gig workers by enacting a law (The Rajasthan Platform Based Gig Workers Registration and Welfare Act 2023) which can be a trend-setter for these workers in many countries. While details may differ according to local conditions, the basic framework can be of use in many other countries as well.
At the same time within India this law can experience some of the same problems which were faced earlier by the national level law enacted for construction workers. While both these laws trace their inspiration to the law enacted first for head-loaders in Maharashtra which has proved quite successful, helped also by strong and creative trade unions particularly the one pioneered by Baba Adhav in Pune, the progress of the welfare and social security provisions provided under the laws enacted for construction workers in 1996 under a similar framework has been far from encouraging in most states. To avoid this fate, the recently enacted law for gig workers must be prepared at the outset to overcome some difficulties and challenges.
Basically this law proposes that a two to one per cent tax should be levied on each transaction involving gig workers (such as a taxi ride or food delivery) and this amount would then be deposited in a fund for many-sided welfare activities and social security relating to gig workers. This fund will be administered by a gig workers’ welfare board with representatives of workers, employers, government and civil society. The board will decide how to allocate the fund for various welfare and social security activities relating to workers. To avail of these benefits gig workers in the state will be registered along with their employers the various platform aggregators (or ‘partners’, as they like to call themselves).
Hence this pattern provides an easy way out for raising significant amounts of funds without creating much of a burden for either the government or the aggregators, as a 2 per cent tax on a transaction is hardly a burden. If for example delivery of a Rs. 500 lunch involves a tax of Rs. 5 to Rs. 10, in the process also contributing to workers’ welfare, then this can hardly be called much of a burden. It is the simplicity and affordability of this pattern of raising adequate resources that can make it acceptable to many other states within India, and in addition in several other countries as well. The Fairwork research project on gig labor has praised this law and its simple rules for raising resources for the social security and welfare of workers.
It is hoped that this law for gig workers will benefit nearly 250,000 such workers in Rajasthan, paving the way also for similar legislation in other parts of India and the world.
At the same time there is a need to take a hard look at why the benefits of somewhat similar legislation for construction workers—based on collecting funds on the basis of a one per cent cess on each construction project of a certain budget– have fallen far short of expectations of workers. This has happened despite the fact that the Supreme Court had given detailed directions for better implementation of this legislation a few years back.
The support of the government as well as industry for implementing the law in the right spirit left much to be desired and the result was that firstly the amount collected was much less than the potential and secondly the amount utilization was low and did not follow the proper priorities.
A new hope was created by Supreme Court directives for improved implementation of these construction worker laws but before this could be ensured, the new labor codes came along and this created a lot of confusion regarding how the two construction worker laws of 1996 will be implemented in the new conditions.
Learning from this mistake, efforts should be initiated from the outset to take more firm steps for the proper implementation of the new law for gig workers enacted in Rajasthan.
Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Man over Machine, When the Two Streams Met and A Day in 2071.