By Ajoy Kumar
14 March 2020
Given a rise in gig economy, the time is ripe to ensure that the next revolution in the labour force is one that is allowed to grow and prosper, ethically and responsibly
It is well known that Jews faced severe exploitation, insult, discrimination and abuse in Nazi-ruled Germany. They were unable to hold any relevant job, other than menial ones that were assigned to them by the State. The fact that they were Jews deprived them of any chance of getting employed. German employers (most of them) would not hire them due to the existing systematic bias and propaganda that was fed to them by the State and its media channels.
Yet, a number of them, who were discriminated against, found a voice through other means — some through academics, others through literature — and ended up being pioneers in their respective fields. However, a large number of them were ultimately relegated to jobs in concentration camps, under the will of their oppressive rulers, or were left to die hungry. The success of the Jewish community brings to focus an issue that should require no debate: No one is inherently or genetically good or bad at most jobs. This episode highlights the manner in which a country views its minorities — be it on the basis of religion, caste or gender. The effects are limited not just in the way they face discrimination, through hate speech for example, but in more significant ways like a chance to earn a livelihood or to own a house.
This is where the “gig economy,” which has seen massive expansion over the past few years, provides a ray of hope if we are willing to grab it. This can broadly be defined as an area of work where short-term jobs are assigned to individuals through online platforms. These positions range from hiring people directly for the customers for everyday jobs, like a driver or a maid or a plumber, to businesses hiring people on a freelance basis to help enterprises.
There is an argument that these jobs actually erode human resource or take advantage of the workers since there is no obligation to pay for their provident fund or to provide them with health cover, among other things. This does shed light on a valid concern. However, I think the gig economy has the opportunity to ensure that people, especially those who are discriminated against, find a way to earn a living and play a constructive role in society. The discrimination at workplace against minorities has been proved statistically. A 2010 study by Thorat and Attewell observed that in the case of equally qualified Scheduled Caste (SCs) and upper caste (about 4,800 each) applicants, SCs had 67 per cent less chance of receiving calls for an interview. What is more disturbing is that a higher percentage of less qualified high castes (undergraduate) received calls compared with the more qualified SCs (post-graduates). The numbers are indeed shocking. In the case of other communities, who, too face discrimination, enough statistical and anecdotal proof exists that employers are reluctant to hire people from minority communities (assuming all things being equal). This is why even as the Muslims constitute roughly 14 per cent of India’s population, they only make up three per cent of India Inc. With workplace gender discrimination remaining an issue of much debate, there’s hardly any impact on the ground. In fact, things are getting worse for the women. According to a Deloitte report, female labour force participation in India fell to 26 per cent in 2018 from 36.7 per cent in 2005.
These are worrying trends and this is where the gig economy has the potential to alter the situation. This is evident from the number of minority communities that are registered on various online platforms as participants of the gig economy workforce. What may have started as a compulsion, on being excluded from the regular work force, may present women, SCs, STs and Muslims an opportunity to thrive in the labour workforce.
Of course, this dream has some caveats. There have been instances in the past where we have seen discrimination on these platforms too. Last year, an Indian customer took to social media to lodge a complaint with an online food aggregator, Zomato that he had refused to take the order because the driver appeared to be of Muslim heritage. Zomato responded with a witty tweet saying, “Food doesn’t have a religion. It is a religion.” This is just a microcosm of the discrimination that gig workers can face. Such attitude or approach towards our fellow Indians is something that I am sure, we all agree, cannot be tolerated, accepted or be allowed to fester.
This is where we need both, private bodies as also the Government, to help plug some gaping loopholes in the gig economy. To cite an example, private companies can refuse to display the name/gender of the person who’s delivering the service as has been requested. Further, gig workers must be given the liberty to report any kind of discrimination by any user. Such conduct must be taken into account by online platforms prior to assigning work to any serviceman. Further, creators of the gig economy must send a clear message that the ecosystem will not tolerate discrimination against any particular community.
On its part, the Government can issue guidelines, listing out the details such companies must implement. Moreover, it is important to come up with a legal framework that protects the legal rights of such workers.
In France, for example, labour law now allows for social security coverage against accidents at work to platform workers, which allows them a right to collective action. The European Parliament, too, has passed new rules that protect gig workers by legislating against discriminatory clauses and allowing for more security for such gig workers.
Given India’s large labour force and the number of participants in the gig economy, both as consumers and suppliers, the time is ripe to ensure that the next revolution in the labour force is one that is allowed to grow and prosper, ethically and responsibly. If we manage to do so, it will truly be a win-win for all Indians.
Ajoy Kumaris a former IPS officer, a former MP and currently a member of the AAP
Original Headline: Let’s think afresh
Source: The Daily Pioneer