Manisha Singh is 29 years old. She was glad when she was able to look for occasional employment through an online job board. The platform specializes in “household-related services” such as cleaning and promises its members additional income with flexible working hours. The operator of this mobile app is based in Bengaluru, the Indian IT center in the south of the country.
But Manisha’s happiness was short-lived. “One day the app was blocked on my cell phone,” she tells DW. “I couldn’t access it and later learned from the operator that I had canceled a request from a customer.” It wasn’t her fault. “It was an operator error. I’m still begging the company. To no avail!”
Priya Seth has had a similar experience. The 32-year-old took a job delivering groceries in the capital, New Delhi. She wants to use the flexible working hours to look after her two school-age children.
But the client cut her pay without notice a month ago. Seth now earns 15 rupees (about 0.17 euros) per delivery instead of 25 rupees. Peak hour surcharges have also been eliminated. “I protested, but that didn’t help. Many of us are forced to switch to competing companies,” Priya tells DW.
work for millions of people
An estimated 7.7 million people in India use mobile apps to find short-term part-time jobs. In addition to the global giant Uber, Indian companies such as Urban Company and Zomato are also involved as operators of such platforms. This business model is called the “gig economy”.
And it’s growing. According to estimates by the government-affiliated think tank NITI Aayog in Delhi, 23.5 million people will be using such online job boards by 2030. The US consulting firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG) assumes that there will be 90 million job seekers in the gig economy in the long term, and that alone in the non-agricultural sectors.
20 to 30 percent of job seekers in the gig economy are women. And many of them, like Manisha and Priya, complain about harassment in this unregulated online job market. It is mostly about unfair payment and reductions in surcharges.
Large gender pay gap
A study by the independent Institute of Social Studies Trust confirms the lack of wage equity in this new sector. The institute studied four industries in the metropolises of New Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai: household services, beauty care, taxi driving and food delivery. It turns out that women often earn much less money and are confronted with worse working conditions than men.
Because women cannot work all the time and have to take on additional household chores, they have no opportunity to earn additional allowances and bonuses, the report says. It is also considered difficult for female online job seekers to organize themselves in employee representatives. However, there is no trade union led or founded by women workers.
Activists call for changes in the law
Lekha Chakraborty is a professor at the International Institute for Public Finance (IIPF) based in Munich. She calls on the Indian government for new legislation to better protect the rights of women workers in the gig economy. “Work-life balance must be a priority when formulating accountability mechanisms in the gig economy. Legislation should be enacted to tackle gender pay gaps,” Chakraborty told DW.
In the eyes of women’s rights activist Kavita Krishnan, exploitation is the hallmark of the gig economy. “Change must take place. All health and safety measures must apply to workers in the gig economy. They must also be allowed to organize in unions.”