Delivery workers on strike

Delivery workers on strike

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Anjali Chauhan

A series of demonstrations, protests and strikes by delivery workers at Zomato-owned Blinkit (formerly Grofers), India’s 10-minute delivery platform, has again brought forward the issues of the grossly exploitative nature of the gig economy.

The demonstrations began when Blinkit rolled out its new payout structure for delivery workers, under which the minimum payout per delivery was reduced to Rs 15 (USD 0.18) per delivery. The workers were earlier paid a monthly salary, which was later brought down to a ‘per order’ payment of Rs 50, then Rs 25 and a few weeks back, it came down to Rs 15. The revised structure also bases incentives on the distance covered to execute the order— a policy commonly known as ‘effort’-based pay. As a result, Blinkit delivery workers are now set to earn Rs 600-700 a day (USD 7.27 – USD 8.48) as opposed to Rs 1,200 (USD 14.54) before.

Since April 10, 2023, areas such as the capital, Delhi and NCR region, Noida, Greater Noida, Faridabad, Ghaziabad, and Gurugram, among many others, have become sites of workers’ demonstration and agitation whose livelihoods lie in danger due to the wage cut and policy alteration by Blinkit. For almost a week, the app showed services as “temporarily unavailable” as hundreds of delivery workers were on strike against the policy changes.

The protesting delivery workers also joined the enormous demonstration and rally on May Day. The rally comprising various trade unions across the country with workers and allies, marched through the lanes of Old Delhi from Ramleela Maidan to Town Hall, Chandni Chowk, Delhi, where it took the shape of demonstration and meeting, giving collective calls for furthering the labour movement to put an end to the exploitation of workers across the country. Workers were raising the red flag, playing cards of “Bring all workers under the ambit of labour laws”, “Register all workers across all categories”, and “End contractual work”, among others, along with slogans of “Long Live May Day”, “Long Live Revolution” were raised. [...]

Life and Livelihood At Risk

Deepak, a Blinkit delivery worker who works in the Rana Pratab Bagh area of Delhi, told me,

“Earlier, we earned 1,000-1,200 rs after working for 8 hours. After this policy change for working the same duration, we will earn around 600 rs. All this happened over 1.5 years. They say that our delivery rate will increase according to the distance travelled. But most of the orders we get between the 1-1.5km radius. They are only fooling us. There are a lot of conditions at work now that we do not understand. That is why we are striking. We want to work on a salaried basis so that we can earn a decent living for our families.” [...]

These testimonies signify a sharp contrast between the lived realities of platform delivery workers and how they are shown in advertisements as happy-looking delivery “partners” smoothly delivering happiness at your doorsteps. These platforms create a mirage of flexibility and autonomy: workers can choose when to work, have freedom from their boss, come and leave at their will, and work at their pace. Consumers find service providers “on-demand” and with no binding relation assumed between workers and platforms. But the actual story is rather different. I asked Rakesh Kumar, another Blinkit delivery worker, about the claims of the company in the name of “freedom” and “autonomy” of workers. He said,

  “All this is only on paper. The reality is that once we come here to work, immediately our chedules are made. Even if orders are beyond the schedule, we are forced to not leave without completing them. We are threatened that if we do not abide, then the next morning, we will not be able to work, and our IDs will be blocked. We are often strictly told by TLs (Team Leaders) that we cannot leave before 12 am or even sometimes 2 am. I’m a sole earner of a family of 6 members, and to make a living for us, I have to work 14-16 hours a day. If they (company) ever get to experience what we go through, doing our work when it is raining, in extreme hot and cold weather, then they will get to know!” [...]

The All India Central Council of Trade Unions (AICCTU) has been at the forefront of gig worker organising. Abhishek, General Secretary of the AICCTU Delhi, shared with me how the union has been organising gig workers under App Karamchari Ekta Union. The App Karamchari Ekta Union has worked extensively in the Delhi NCR area and has been leading Blinkit workers’ protests since then. To begin with, organisers closely observed the pattern of work that gig workers performed across platforms. Having gained a firm hold of the issues, they started tracing the locations where workers could be found on the street. This is followed by dialogue with the workers, discussing their conditions and the internal functioning of the platforms. A foundation of trust was built through constant support and compassion, and from here came into existence the App Karamchari Ekta Union. [...]

A Global Movement

Delivery workers have been risking their lives to ensure the supply of essentials reaches millions of households during the pandmeic. However, their pain, labour and grievances have neither been acknowledged nor compensated. Against this backdrop, the Blinkit strike signifies a crucial turning point as the delivery partners have united to make their voices heard and demand due recognition and better treatment. Strikes and protests by workers in the gig economy are not unique or limited to India. In the past few years, we witnessed similar incidents across the globe, particularly in the United States. In 2018, Amazon warehouse workers in Europe went on strike during the busiest shopping day, demanding better pay and working conditions. The strike brought attention to the plight of workers and led to a renewed focus on their welfare. Similarly, in 2020, Instacart workers in the United States staged a nationwide strike demanding hazard pay and protective gear amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The pressure eventually led the company to provide additional benefits, such as paid sick leave and bonuses for frontline workers. The world is witnessing consistent and conscious erosion of labour laws, continuous contractualisation and outsourcing of work under the daunting shadow of neoliberal capitalism. The irony is not lost on calling workers “partners” when the only thing company manages to share with them is the burden of unchecked labour and tiresome work discipline, scrapping of labour laws, increasing work hours with decreasing wages and institutionalised attack on those who protest or take efforts to unionise. These common trends are taking place throughout the world, pointing towards a dangerous future for workers, but are also increasingly met with resistance.


Published by  Asian Labour Review

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