Digital labour platforms function in markets through “matching…the supply of and demand for paid work through an online platform”. One of the major ways in which matching platforms function is through algorithms, which collect vast amounts of data both from the workers and their customers in order to ostensibly optimise their services continuously. India’s gig economy has seen a boom, so much so that a June 2022 report from the country’s apex policy think tank, NITI Aayog, predicted that by 2030, 6.7% of the economy would rely on such work. Given the increased digital push with the Covid-19 pandemic and the tangible unemployment crisis, on-demand platform work seems to be providing succour. In fact, online work is being touted as the pathway to access the benefits of digitalisation for developing countries, with nearly 67% of gig workers belonging to Asian countries on the top five platforms. The questions that must be posed, then are: Has platform work really helped create more jobs? Or is it plugging in a wider jobs crisis temporarily, while also increasing precarity in an unequal work ecosystem? Lastly, is there scope to move towards an equitable solution that safeguards the rights of workers?
This study focused on the laws and cases that protect various aspects of labour’s interaction with the platformised workplace and the rights that are sought to be protected. With the understanding that an algorithm plays a significant role in the platform-mediated workplace, this study has sought to analyse the impact of algorithms through a legal analysis of the existing laws and judicial decisions across jurisdictions, and understand worker perspectives through primary interviews. Based on the findings, this study focuses on the following broad recommendations:
a. Identifying the rights implicated by the platform: The framework of laws and cases as well as the primary interviews conducted lay down the foundation for identifying core labour rights that provide the base for a robust set of regulations in the platformised workplace run by the algorithm. The rights of workers that need protection include the workers’ right of access to the platform, right to need-based minimum wage, right to information and data, including access to personal data, right to data portability, right to an explanation of the functioning of automated monitoring and automated decision-making systems, among others.
b. Regulating the platformised workplace: Regulating the platform workplace is another important recommendation, with the abovementioned rights of workers identified and acknowledged. This includes a set of sector-specific guidelines to account for its unique challenges. For instance, in the food delivery sector, workers require additional protection with regard to entering and accessing customers’ residences, often in gated societies, and need waiting areas in and around restaurants to avoid having to stand on the roadside.
c. Considerations for a model law for platform worker rights: Another way forward is to draft a model law for platform workers which not only upholds their rights, but also places responsibility squarely at the doorstep of platforms. Such a law should consider including the following provisions:
- Employment guarantees
- Wage and social security benefits
- Data and information rights
d. Recognising collective bargaining rights: Collective bargaining rights through trade unions and representatives ensure a foot in the door for workers and a seat at the table when regulations and policies are being made for them.
e. Identifying alternatives to the dominant model of platform work: The issues of incumbent digital platforms in the workplace have now been widely captured in literature, particularly from the perspective of worker and customer experiences. In this situation, as regulation is rolled out in various iterations across the country for each sub-sector in the platform economy, business thinking has attempted to innovate around such visible bottlenecks. Such alternatives must also consider using digital public infrastructure and open networks, while being cognisant of ensuring actual change and not merely catering to buzzwords.
This study was conducted in association with the Centre for Labour Studies, National Law School of India University, Bengaluru, and funded by the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung and the Fair, Green and Global Alliance.
Read our complete study here.