Gainfully employed: Focus on creating ‘work’ opportunities

With the Number of new jobs created far from what is needed, lawmakers must focus on creating opportunities for work by supporting the gig economy

With the advent of internet and smart phone penetration, gig economy started to grow, and due to its flexible and participatory nature, it gave the freedom and opportunity for workers to choose days/hours one wanted to engage to earn. However, one concern that kept everyone awake was social coverage and safety. (Representative image)
With the advent of internet and smart phone penetration, gig economy started to grow, and due to its flexible and participatory nature, it gave the freedom and opportunity for workers to choose days/hours one wanted to engage to earn. However, one concern that kept everyone awake was social coverage and safety. (Representative image)

By Rameesh Kailasam

The Covid-19 pandemic and the pathogen’s steady stream of variants have brought unprecedented disruption in the workplace and forced many professions to forcibly adopt technology. It also brought to the fore the fact that not every work or job required occupying space in an office.

If we look at the global employment figure of around 3.33 billion, around 2 billion people operate in an informal employment mode; of this, gig economy is already touching 200 milion. Gig economy today ranges from ride-sharing, deliveries, home-services, beauty and wellness to even gig-work in the hi-tech space such as coding, project management, marketing, fintech, pharma, edu-tech and so on. Even MGNREGA, technically, is another form of gig work.

The prime minister recently mentioned that 800 million people in India received free ration and benefited from the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana. This also indicates that a vast section of the population is still vulnerable, and we need to work harder to create more work opportunities for their livelihood.
It is also quite clear that a majority of the world earns its livelihood not from jobs but by doing work that may be informal or gig. With the population growth averaging 15-18 million per year and with number of jobs created being 1/10th of the same, the only major option is self-employment, gig or informal employment. What has kept our country civil and the economy growing is the fact that every individual aspires to work and earn with self-respect. So, whether it is about starting a small business/cottage industry, or taking up various professions, or being honourably self-employed by opening a shop or being a hawker, Indians preferred entrepreneurship and self-employment to make up for lack of jobs for such a large populace.

With the advent of internet and smart phone penetration, gig economy started to grow, and due to its flexible and participatory nature, it gave the freedom and opportunity for workers to choose days/hours one wanted to engage to earn. However, one concern that kept everyone awake was social coverage and safety.
The ministry of labour has demonstrated India’s progressive outlook and is the first to be acknowledging the growing number of workers associated with the unorganised sector and gig by extending social security benefits to them. The government interacted closely with the industry and related parties to create the much needed Code on Social Security 2020 which defines a gig worker as ‘a person who performs work or participates in a work arrangement and earns from such activities outside of traditional employer-employee relationships.’

Almost all notable start-ups operating in the gig economy space provide the gig workers with some form of social security cover like insurance and other benefits, and have often supplemented these provisions with additional voluntary provisions in many cases. The Social Security Code 2020 aims to provide social security for unorganised workers, gig workers and platform workers besides making provisions for their registration. The Code requires contribution between 1-2% of the annual turnover of the aggregators not exceeding 5% of the amount paid/payable to gig and platform workers. The Social Security Code 2020 has already enacted the requirement of such provisions and subject to certain clarifications, it is important for the government to kick start the process along with states.
The gig economy has also led to emergence of start-ups like “JEEVITAM” (meaning livelihoods) that are creating massive social impact on ground by reaching the unreached, combining old tech using IVRS and new tech using AI to enable sourcing to match making for the gig worker and connecting with the new age start-ups besides conventional companies that are seeking them while aligning their approach to reach the new age consumer who wants everything at the swipe of a screen or a click of a button.

The ministry of skill development and entrepreneurship has also launched “Bharat Skills”, a central repository for skills which provides NSQF curriculum, course material, videos, question banks, mock test and qualification packs.

While gig economy is a boon to crores of Indians wanting to earn a livelihood from work, there are perceived concerns around safety and social security. Of late, we have heard parliamentarians raising concerns on the gig economy and its engagement models linking road safety and turnaround times. It is important to note here that any business that promises a turnaround time to its customers can do so only when the required infrastructure is in place. The scale of such operations is usually limited to a circumscribed geographic location only. Hubs and stations are put into place around the customer locations where such deliveries are guaranteed, so that the distance travelled by the gig workers is limited and do-able in a few minutes (without any need for increase in speed or rash driving).While concerns of law makers may be partly true, it is critical to still collaborate, engage and enable this sector as it holds promise for future of significant amount of work and livelihoods. Law makers should also strive to push the government to promote better road safety provisions, safe cycling and bike lanes, better traffic management etc. as worker’s work life conditions pass through these public jurisdictions.

Today gig-economy has opened doors for many to go up the value chain. From an aspirational standpoint gig work today includes delivery entrepreneurs, financial advisors, home services, resellers, tech freelancers, online tutors, travel agents, cloud kitchen entrepreneurs, agripreneurs, medical entrepreneurs to EV battery charging/swapping entrepreneurs etc. If one were to convert all of these into forced jobs, then neither will there be flexibility not economic viability for these models.

The future is therefore “work” and regulations should recognise the fact that it is impossible for any country and government to enable and create that many jobs, hence the aim should be to strive to create more work opportunities collaboratively while ensuring social security, safety and fair earnings for all.

The author is CEO, Indiatech.org

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