No legal rights for gig workers

The Code on Wages, Code on Industrial Relations, and the Code on Occupational Safety and Health have no mention of gig workers. Gig workers are excluded from vital benefits and protections offered by these Codes such as minimum wages, occupational safety and health benefits, and overtime pay. As they are not recognised as workers under the Code of Industrial Relations, the unions they form cannot lodge cases against the Company owners in the Labour Courts. The company owners refuse to negotiate with any unions that they may form. They are not legally entitled to minimum wages.

Companies like Uber and Zomato have challenged unions demanding minimum wages, claiming that gig workers’ terms of employment are outside of an employer-employee relationship.

On September 20, 2021, the Indian Federation of App-based Transport Workers (IFAT) filed a public interest litigation on behalf of gig workers before the Supreme Court. The petition demanded that gig workers be declared as ‘unorganised workers’ and brought under the purview of the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008 (UWSS Act) so that they may be provided statutory protection in the form of social security benefits.

The petition argued that the exclusion of gig workers from the category of ‘unorganised workers’ or ‘wage workers’ in the UWSS Act, is violative of their fundamental rights under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution. Further, it argued that such denial of social benefits amounts to exploitation through forced labour, according to Article 23 of the Constitution.

The Supreme Court sought the Central government’s response to this petition in December 2021, but the Centre has not filed any response yet. No further hearing has taken place either.

Out of the four new labour codes enacted by Parliament, gig work finds reference only in the Code on Social Security. It talks of the central government establishing a social security fund for gig workers, to which gig work employers are supposed to contribute. It mandates the compulsory registration of all gig workers to avail of benefits under these schemes. Three years after being passed by parliament, the Central Government has not framed the rules for the implementation of this Code.

The Motor Vehicle Aggregator Guidelines 2020, issued by the government, which contains some provisions to regulate work conditions of drivers of ride-sharing companies, is also awaiting implementation.

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