Gig economy and Indian job market

Prof. M. K. Bhat
The history of gig economy is as old as formal economy, however its influence on India’s labour market has increased tremendously in recent years.The gig economy has got boost during pandemic times and as per economic survey 2020-21 India has become one of the largest markets for flexible staffing in the world due to the adoption of e- commerce and online marketing. There has been a gigantic growth of gig economy with the digitalisation of economy, increase in commercial platforms and smart phones.Still,it is quite difficult to estimate the exact number of gig workers because they range from onetime specific work to quite often performance of a specific work and mostly are not organised like regular workers.
With intensification of competition in the market,companies started trimming staff and engaged freelancers to reduce their overhead costs,they feel convenient to engage freelancers. Gig economy is not only cost efficient but also hassle free for companies,as it saves them from administrative and compliance issues. This also allows them to enjoy flexibility in employer employee relationship. Many companies prefer to hire freelancer’s talent to perform specific tasks because of the instable market scenario at present. As more and more companies become technology driven to reduce costs,the number of gig workers is expected to go up. India’s gig sector was expected to be worth $455 billion by 2024.
The uncertain situation about health care created by pandemic has compelled many companies, especially computer based to start remote work regime. This saves their office maintenance cost. Instead of hiring, they go on having talent on project bases. In service sector 50 to 76 percent of workforce comprises of gig workers.The gig workers during pandemic times are under compulsion to perform at whatever they get. Some of them have stretched in related fields due to the lack of opportunity in the core areas.This switchover, however was not possible for everyone.
The big changes in the gig employment have become possible with the growth of new platforms. These platforms provide opportunities to gig workers within a short range to meet local customers needs andsome of them bring together the demand for and supply of labour at international level.The job seekers and job providers meet on these platforms without any middleman. India constitutes about 40% of the freelance jobs offered globally, with 15 million skilled professionals fuelling the ever-increasing demand of contract-based jobs or the freelance industry, compared to this America has 53 million such workers.
Gig workers cater to the varied needs of the employees. On- line retailing platforms like Amazon, Flipkart, Ola, Ubber, Zomatto, Swiggy employ both white collar and blue-collar workers e.g. Swiggy, Big Basket require delivery boys, Ola, Ubber require drivers,there is need for consultants, web designers,content writers, specialists to name a few gigjobs.Gig work is sometimes confined to a particular clearing house to provide food, home delivery of goods or electric services.It also helps international consumers through clouding work by using computers.
Things that shape gig economy are platform infrastructures like 4G connectivity, cloud computing, GPS network and so on. It may be worthwhile to mention here that every work cannot be outsourced to freelancers, certain jobs require constant attention and loyalty, such things may be difficult to cultivate in gig workers. It depends on the nature of work whether it can be mediated via digital platform or not.The escalation in gig economy has also become possible with an increase in the number of smartphone users in the country. This number is estimated to reach over 760 million in 2021, with the number of smartphone users worldwide forecasted to exceed to 3.8 billion users in 2021.
It is no doubt that consumers attitude and preference towards gig economy has changed a lot, there was 17 % growth in gig economy prior to the lock down. The young generation adopts gig platforms for their solutions easily because of their being more computer savvy and also due to their exposure to smart phones.
The gig workers have suffered most from first lockdown till date as compared to regular employees. The latter either got their jobs back with the opening of economy or have hope to get it back soon while as the former have no such hope at present. The negative aspect of gig job is the instability of job, uncertain pay schedules, unsteady workload, and lack of social benefits and or lack of any statutory protection akin to a worker in permanent employment. The market may not always be favourable to a particular industry and, therefore, freelancers are expected to be prepared with more than one type of skill.Hence, people who choose such open work environments need to upgrade their knowledge base and skillset consistently.
The other more important disadvantage which gig workers face is that, they are not eligible for social benefits such as insurance, medical benefits, employees’ provident fund, bonus or gratuity. These gig workers also do not have any employment-related rights, except in some cases involving any breach under their respective contracts. Not being a full-time employee of an establishment implies that an organisation is not mandated to provide any social security or statutory benefits to an independent worker. Although the government has come out with new code on social security in 2020 to protect the interests of such workers.They may have to register now on the government portal for these benefits. They were previously not recognized under any labour legislation.Companies shall pay for the social security and tax liabilities of gig workers.
On the brighter side of gig job market, it may be said that; it gives skilled workers an opportunity to put more efforts for more earning and at the same time restricts the employers from forcing their views on such workers. It provides the worker an opportunity to choose their hours of work, workdays, holidays and preferred organisations. Gig work exposes, workers to new opportunities, it gives choice of where to work, workers enjoy freedom to work for a few employers while retaining their freedom. It exposes them to less risk of job and income from multiple employees but all such workers require constant upgrading of their skill to remain industry relevant.
Covid 19 hasdisarrayed businesses and compelled organisations to rethink about the very nature of work. Before pandemic blue collar workers had to attend work at a particular location and white-collar workers had a fixed office and ambience to work but work from home has changed the very basic parameters of job market.
The gig jobs are bound to increase in the coming years according to Boston consultancy group, the gig economy will comprise both existing jobs that will migrate to gig platforms as well as new jobs that will be created as a result of better market transparency, greater efficiencies in delivery and growing demand.
(The author is Professor (M.A. I.T) Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, Delhi)