The gig economy has been a driving force for business growth in the current employment landscape and has had a phenomenal impact on the way organisations hire. While Niti Aayog estimates India will have around 23.5 million gig workers by the end of this decade, BCG expects a long-term rise of close to 90 million. Undoubtedly, the future of work will be shaped by this rapidly growing and evolving sector.
However, what presents a challenge for organisations today is how this workforce continues to operate in a state of legal vacuum. Determining the employment status of gig workers has not been easy and could create legal risks related to misclassification, employment discrimination, and workplace safety. The Code on Social Security 2020 also presents a unique challenge, given its lack of clarifications on the welfare provisions for gig workers and platform workers, especially in terms of stakeholder responsibility.
What is the role then that HR leaders can play in this context? How can corporates step up to protect the gig workers? To discuss and deliberate more on this critical issue, People Matters in partnership with Trilegal hosted a roundtable discussion on ‘Building trust and engagement in the gig workforce: Legal considerations for HR.’ With some of the greatest minds of the HR fraternity in attendance, Apeksha Mattoo, Partner-Corporate, Labour and Employment at Trilegal opened this session and set the stage for all the insightful conversation to follow.
Here are some key takeaways from the roundtable.
The definition of the gig worker remains blurry
Section 2(35) of the Code on Social Security, 2020 defines "Gig worker" to mean a person who performs work or participates in a work arrangement and earns from such activities outside of the traditional employer-employee relationship. But it is a loosely worded definition that doesn’t really differentiate them from say platform workers, home-based workers or even self-employed contractors. This is bound to create room for conflict.
Judith Antao, Head HR at Rohlig India emphasised, “As HR professionals, its important to move forward and get clarity on the gig workforce. We must focus on how we can best layout policies for them from a legal and compliance point of view.” Undoubtedly, having clear-cut definitions is important so that the right welfare provisions are allotted. It is evident that a singular definition of a gig worker might not ring true across industries given the diversity in drivers on the part of both employers and individual gig workers. In other words, both of these parties derive different benefits from the gig economy.
Drivers of gig workers differ according to contexts
Alapinee Deshmukh, Lead-Human Resources at eClinicalWorks proposed an interesting definition, “Gig economy is synonymous with 3 Fs: Flexibility, freedom and fat income. The context of work has changed from 3-dimensional to 4-dimensional. When we look at the gig economy especially, the collaborative structures and the shift towards a passion economy is evident.” Technological innovations indeed have resulted in the creation of jobs with no defined contours, and the newer workforce generations are looking for variety. They want to live life on their own terms and not choose one passion over another.
However, that is only one part of the picture. A darker reality exists where it’s less a choice and more a compulsion. Populations from less privileged backgrounds who struggle to make ends meet have different motivations for participating in the gig economy. While social security remains absent, they choose this profession because it opens up more income channels. One cannot forget that when the pandemic hit the country, it was the gig workers who lost their source of livelihood. And so it begs the question, “Who really needs these protections? How do we ensure that these protections are accessible and the right benefits go to the right people?”
Bearing the provisions of the Code on Social Security 2020
Corporations employing gig workers have a fundamental role to play when protecting the rights of these workers. But for profit-driven entities, minimising company costs will be of prime concern. Additionally, given the lack of clarity on which stakeholder will provide what quantum of welfare to gig workers, challenges in rolling out these benefits are bound to arise. While one can operate with good corporate conscience, the circumstances will differ across industries. It is thus urgent that HR and Business partners look at gig workers from the employee perspective.
Brillian S.K., Chief People Officer at Times Group rightly pointed out, “There is a need to bring in more transparency and respect from both sides-the organisation and the gig worker. It’s also imperative to have forums where we can deliberate on the right kind of policies and processes so that when the labour codes get implemented, we will be slightly ready to face the challenge.”
Dr Bhanukumar Parmar, Head HR, SVP at UltraTech Cement also added, “This is indeed a burning issue all around, especially given the ease of business offered by the gig economy. In India, a law has been proposed but what’s essential at this juncture is to carefully think about proper law enactment, drive engagement at the workplace, create forums for building awareness about gig workers, segregate gig workers and platform workers, determine who needs the most support and finally, encourage our society to respect them and value their contributions.”
Undoubtedly, a lot of work remains to be done when it comes to employing gig workers. The gig economy with its innumerable advantages opens up so many opportunities for organisations across India but it's high time corporates step back and evaluate how they can provide the necessary social security coverage and benefits. The right structure, security and safety for gig workers ultimately stem from strategic policy-making and implementation.