THE HINDU EDITORIAL – 10th August 2017

1.a) Working on the app-based model

The line between work and jobs is often manipulated. The Delhi High Court is hearing the issue on August 10 in response to a Delhi-based union’s petition which refutes the claims of Uber and Ola — as not being employers of drivers but only providers of work. In an Indian orbit, this is the first Indian public articulation of a question on the so-called gig economy that has been raised in courts worldwide. The union says drivers are put under control and supervision amounting to employment, but neither do they enjoy flexible work nor receive benefits. As informal sector workers who know how to maintain continuity in income, falling incentives have upset their calculations of spending, saving, and repaying debt. The same algorithms that give drivers a written history of work and earnings also allow companies to be faceless but still in control. Uber and Ola drivers are some of the first informal sector workers to be immersed in new-age tech. Their work is organised around data, timestamps and geo-references, making it traceable and trackable. Algorithms that run platforms also systematise parts of work unlike in previous non-tech work. Work has readable history, incomes verified in bank statements, with regularity — paid mostly without delays, without asking. Processes and protocols were never a part of their previous work as lorry drivers, chauffeurs or drivers based at traditional stands. In contrast, most of us in “jobs” are accustomed to having legibility in our work lives. The High Court can create precedence for the regulation of tech based work for a large young population which needs work but is underskilled for the formal job market. The sheer number of drivers who join these platforms indicates the sizeable digital workforce being created. Identical platform ideas are being funded in different cities as separate entities, because investors find the digitisation of local services even at city level worthwhile. Unlike those of us in “jobs” with protected salaries, these drivers manage earnings to spend, save and resolve debt. Legal contracts that safeguard future income (preventing untimely dismissal) and future savings (provident funds) have not been available to them. Unlike in America where the platform model originates and is called the ‘death of the job’, this new form of work has more continuities with older forms of the informal sector than discontinuities. Platform drivers have experienced what organised work feels like — not formal jobs, but work that is accounted for, seamless, and organised. Rides come continuously. Payments come in regular intervals, partly in hand through cash, partly in banks, expanding savings from the near to the mid-term. Primary research by this writer finds drivers made more stable financial decisions because of this organisation of platforms. Left vulnerable yet, platforms have thrown this off balance by severely changing the rules of the game for drivers. Agility, which is a key to this business model, allows companies to experiment but makes drivers vulnerable. Shrinking, negligible incentives have reduced their incomes. Some cannot repay car loans. Companies restrict drivers’ access to their work data. They also say that their earnings don’t always add up. Companies are unabashedly constraining the very offerings that got drivers to join their platforms in the first place. As informal sector workers, drivers have learnt how to maintain continuous work and income despite flexible work. The rules of the informal labour market come from trusted networks that are tacit to those outside it. Drivers may not be uncomfortable with weekly, daily fluctuations in income on platforms because they were within a known range. But the game has no rules now. How do we weigh the benefits of legal formality when they come without a living wage? Who gets to decide this trade-off: the state or the worker? A countrywide skilling and job crisis leaves these informal, semi-skilled workers with limited work options — driving, with low barriers of entry, is vital here. Regulation should be responsive to drivers’ interests. Drivers can decide the quantity and duration of their work on platforms and this is valuable for them. Their terms of earning need regulations for transparency. It will be crucial to see whether the Delhi court judgment can create precedence for the regulation of technology and work for workers without security nets. It will take a city court, immersed in the realities of its economy, its labour patterns, its experiences of vulnerability and security, to determine these questions. For a city such as Delhi where so much work and employment is in the non-manufacturing sector, how should we think of security for workers? Do we not need to think through regulations that contain the algorithms that are set to determine the smartening of our cities and digitising India?


Words/ Vocabulary

1) Manipulated

Meaning: Control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly or unscrupulously.

Example: The masses were deceived and manipulated by a tiny group.

Synonym: Exploit, Control, Influence

Antonym: Destroy, Idle

2) Refute

Meaning: Deny or contradict (a statement or accusation)

Example: A spokesman totally refuted the allegation of bias.

Synonym: Deny, Reject

Antonym: Agree, Allow, Assist

3) Articulation

Meaning: The action of putting into words an idea or feeling.

Example: It would involve the articulation of a theory of the just war.

Synonym: Expression, Voicing, Utterance

4) Gig

Meaning: A job, especially one that is temporary or that has an uncertain future.

Example: Working on the sea and spotting whales seemed like a great gig.

Synonym: Employment, Engagement

Antonym: Unemployment

5) Debt

Meaning: A sum of money that is owed or due.

Example: I paid off my debts.

Synonym: Bill, Account, Tally

6) Algorithms

Meaning: A process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, especially by a computer.

Example: A basic algorithm for division.

7) Timestamp

Meaning: A digital record of the time of occurrence of a particular event.

Example: Every tweet is posted with a timestamp.

8) Chauffeurs

Meaning: A person employed to drive a private or hired car.

Example: A chauffeur-driven limousine.

Synonym: Transport, Convey, Carry

9) Precedence

Meaning: The condition of being considered more important than someone or something else; priority in importance, order, or rank.

Example: His desire for power soon took precedence over any other consideration.

Synonym: Priority, Pre-eminence, Rank

Antonym: Inferiority, Lowest

10) Sheer

Meaning: Avoid or move away from an unpleasant topic.

Example: Her mind sheered away from images she didn’t want to dwell on.

Synonym: Turn away, Flinch

Antonym: Uncertain

11) Seamless

Meaning: Smooth and without seams or obvious joins.

Example: Seamless stockings.

Synonym: Smooth, Consistent

Antonym: Rough, Uneven

12) Vulnerable

Meaning: Liable to higher penalties

Example: A side which has already won one game towards the current rubber is said to be vulnerable.

Synonym: In danger, In peril, In jeopardy

Antonym: Protected, Secure

13) Agility

Meaning: Ability to move quickly and easily.

Example: He clambers over the machinery with the agility of a monkey.

Synonym: Active, Swiftness

Antonym: Slow, Sluggish

14) Unabashedly

Meaning: Without embarrassment or shame.

Example: The film presents an unabashedly biased point of view.

Synonym: Face to face, Publicly

Antonym: Shamefully, Secretly

15) Tacit

Meaning: Understood or implied without being stated.

Example: Your silence may be taken to mean tacit agreement.

Synonym: Implicit, Understood, Implied

Antonym: Explicit, Express

16) Vital

Meaning: Absolutely necessary; essential.

Example: Secrecy is of vital importance.

Synonym: Essential, Indispensable

Antonym: Minor, Needless