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SERVICES AT OUR DOORSTEP: DELIVERY WORKERS ARE THE NEW FRONT-LINE FORCE

Why in news?

The ‘ferrymen’ of Wuhan, who have been providing groceries, food and medicines to citizens isolated in their homes, have been the backbone of cities that have been most hit by the novel coronavirus.

Delivery infrastructure or digitally enabled micro-logistics are key to how citizens navigate their ‘social distanced’ lives during the pandemic.

Delivery technologies are providing a key form of infrastructure that can be mobilised at short notice, dynamically and at scale.

Threat faced by delivery personnel in India

  • Major delivery players in India have responded by publicising consumer awareness, restricting dynamic pricing (Amazon and Flipkart) and contact-less delivery protocols.
  • Ola offers ₹1,000 a day for lost income for up to 21 days for drivers or their family members who contract the virus.
  • Flipkart is reportedly mapping impacted areas to ensure that delivery agents are aware and least affected as they continue to offer relief to elite and middle-class households who have been the first-wave of likely infected citizens.
  • However, company follow-through is in question.
  • Reports show that delivery platforms have not yet implemented some of these protocols.
  • Indian mobility platforms have not yet offered to extend or waive loans and rental fees for lease drivers.

Facing risks

  • It is only when such infrastructure breaks or is in decay that public concern around it grows.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates the risk faced by delivery agents.
  • They are unable to take a break from work, work from home, or access the superfluous resources that white-collar and professionals in other fields are deriving from their employers.
  • Delivery personnel face severe exposure to the virus without paid sick leave, without work, and daily payouts.
  • Recognising the key infrastructural role that delivery personnel are playing in the pandemic opens up a set of responsibilities for the government to take on.

A new reality?

  • If governments around the world are ready to nationalise key infrastructure (like Spain’s private hospitals), can we use the food delivery workforce to deliver tests or essential medicines to those affected?
  • With the Delhi government banning all dining-in and allowing only delivery, is the pandemic a time to think about a new form of regulation that brings private, socio-technological infrastructure into the public fold in times of crises, eventually to be released back into the forces of the market?
  • Can the app service and app worker’s status as public infrastructure bolster a better interpretation of social protection that lasts beyond this crisis?
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September 2022
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