The Code on Social Security, 2019 – What’s in it for Gig Workers?

The Code on Social Security (“the Code”), having the capacity of impacting over 50 crore workers in India, now stands approved by the Union Cabinet. The Code, introduced by the Labour Minister Santosh Kumar Gangwar on Wednesday (December 11, 2019) in Lok Sabha, swaps 9 laws associated with social security; noteworthy among these is the Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008. Social security generally signifies various measures initiated to make sure reasonable access to healthcare and the provision of income security to workers if offered. Establishing a social security fund with the help of the corpus available under corporate social responsibility is advised, so as to offer welfare benefits to all workers. Why this proposal is special is since it also includes gig workers under its purview.

Gig workers

The Code indicates that as for the schemes for gig workers, platform workers, and unorganised workers, the financing of these is planned to be done via a mixture of contributions from the employer, employee, and the appropriate government. However, there is more to it than this; the central or state governments could also, under the purview of the Code, notify specific schemes for gig workers, platform workers, and unorganised workers, say in the form of offering such service professionals with various reimbursed benefits, viz. life and disability cover. The Code identifies Gig workers as those workers who work outside of the traditional employer-employee relationship (e.g., freelancers or independent contractors). Platform workers, for instance, are such workers who access other organisations or individuals via online platforms and earn money by offering them with specific services. Unorganised workers also comprise of home-based and self-employed workers.

Talking about home-based unorganised (gig) workers, it should be mentioned that even though the third-largest economy in the world is amidst a slowdown (per the International Monetary Fund), the skillful housewives of India are joining the promising trend of “cloud kitchens” to feed today’s hungry urbanites (millennials), that also too late in their (ripe for retirement) lives. Various app-based startups such as Curryful (dubbed to be the UBER of home-cooked food), Homefoodi, etc., have started offering a platform to housewives for offering home-cooked meals to the modern millennials. What this means is that the demography of the gig workforce is innovating with each passing month in India as various forms of service professionals are joining the market that erstwhile were expecting retirement in their lives. With such a robust presence of demand and supply matchup in the gig workforce and the startup markets, it certainly makes sense for the government to ensure timely social security measures for its unorganised, independent, young, adult, middle-aged, and also ageing elderly (still zealous) workforce.

This is because in stressed times (as the ones currently being experienced by our nation in the form of unrests), it gets difficult for gig workers who are discharging their duties in the middle of the road as food delivery-agents or cab drivers or e-commerce delivery agents to comfortably and safely fulfill their service obligations. In such uncertain times, it surely makes sense to have social security benefits of the required nature in place to make such vulnerable gig workers be able to protect themselves and safeguard the future of their dependent family members (via referring the code on occupational safety, health, and working conditions). The same goes for elderly home-cooking housewives who juggle with multiple duties, more so in their later years. Where in the western countries the trend of platform (app) economy jobs have been received negatively for having destroyed stable industries – the reasoning being the absence of the following: (i) workplace benefits. (ii) labor unions –, in India, the government has exhibited the necessary mindfulness towards initiating proactive steps (such as the Code on Social Security, 2019) in the direction of addressing these warranted concerns of the gig workers, their families, and various stakeholders.