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A lesson from China on gig workers’ rights


In September 2021, the Indian Federation of App-based Transport Workers, on behalf of gig workers, filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court demanding that the Union government provide succour to workers affected by the pandemic.

In September 2021, China strode ahead in this regard, as owing to public pressure, two of its food delivery platforms committed to end the practice of forcing workers to register as ‘independent businesses’, which has long helped these platforms evade responsibilities as employers.


GS-III: Indian Economy (Human Resource, Employment and related issues)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Understanding Gig economy and Gig workers
  2. About the petition regarding Gig workers
  3. What has happened in China regarding Gig workers?
  4. Gig economy in the Indian context
  5. Conclusion

Understanding Gig economy and Gig workers

  • In a gig economy, temporary, flexible jobs are commonplace and companies tend to hire independent contractors and freelancers instead of full-time employees.
  • A gig economy undermines the traditional economy of full-time workers who often focus on their career development.
  • The gig economy can benefit workers, businesses, and consumers by making work more adaptable to the needs of the moment and demand for flexible lifestyles.
  • At the same time, the gig economy can have downsides due to the erosion of traditional economic relationships between workers, businesses, and clients.
  • In a gig economy, large numbers of people work in part-time or temporary positions or as independent contractors. The result of a gig economy is cheaper, more efficient services, such as Uber or Airbnb, for those willing to use them.
  • A wide variety of positions fall into the category of a gig. The work can range from driving for car-pooling services or delivering food to writing code or freelance articles. Adjunct and part-time professors, for example, are contracted employees as opposed to tenure-track or tenured professors. Colleges and universities can cut costs and match professors to their academic needs by hiring more adjunct and part-time professors.

About the petition regarding Gig workers

  • The petition has asked for ‘gig workers’ and ‘platform workers’ to be declared as ‘unorganised workers’. Doing so would help them come under the purview of the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, 2008. In short, the petition demands social security benefits for gig workers.
  • The pandemic has helped make the services of delivery workers evident and visible. The media aided this transformation. Through 2020, China, India, the U.S. and Europe saw these invisible workers being propelled to frontline workers.

What has happened in China regarding Gig workers?

  • In early 2021, in successive strikes spanning over two months, delivery workers protested against poor working conditions.
  • A weak civil society and the absence of independent labour unions leaves gig workers in China with very little option but to go on strike or protest, despite the risks, to affect change.
  • China, owing to public pressure committed to ending the practice of forcing workers to register as independent businesses, which has helped food delivery platforms evade responsibilities as employers.
  • Many of the government initiatives have lately been public-driven.
  • In China, where the government is now focused on common prosperity, which seeks to narrow a widening wealth gap that threatens the country’s economic rise, the government’s scrutiny over food delivery platforms has also increased.
  • It was in the government’s interest to intervene when it realised that there was growing discontent not only among the delivery workers but also the public about their plight.

Gig economy in the Indian context

  • The situation is different in India. Any reform in this sector is led wholly by delivery workers, not the public.
  • For 27 days in 2020, close to 3,000 delivery workers from Swiggy went on strike in Hyderabad to protest the slash in remuneration.
  • The strikes disbanded after the Joint Commissioner of the Labour Department called a hearing with the platform’s operations manager and the workers’ union. It was the first time in India that such a negotiation was taking place.
  • In the lead up to Zomato’s IPO in 2021, several Tweets called customers’ attention to exploitative practices employed by platforms.
  • The PIL in the Supreme Court is another major step in this regard.


  • The biggest lesson from China is that public opinion has partly led to government regulation and change in company policy.
  • Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic began, food delivery has become an essential part of daily life. Indians could also make an effort to be better informed about the way platforms work by seeking out delivery workers and asking about their work conditions and the pressures they face.

-Source: The Hindu

March 2024