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Urban Company cedes some ground to workers pushing for better pay and working conditions

The list of demands compiled under the All India Gig Workers Union included a transparent commission system.

“The revenues of Urban Company depend on the fees charged from us. Despite this, we have been ill-treated and exploited time and again,” Urban Company Partners of Delhi NCR wrote in an official list of demands published by the All India Gig Workers Union on October 12.

The workers have been on strike over ‘exploitative and opaque terms’. In the list of demands, the workers demanded a transparent commission system and more flexibility in choosing their pace of work. In response, Urban Company has decided to cater to some of their demands.

Gig workers from Swiggy, Zomato, Ola, and Uber have routinely raised their voice over exploitative work conditions in the gig economy. It is only recently that Indian gig workers in home services have begun highlighting their grievances with the Urban Company’s terms and conditions.

What are Urban Company workers demanding?

Here are the main demands of the workers:

  • Commission structure: “Currently, commissions are not deducted in a transparent or rule-based manner,” the letter says. The workers have demanded a tiered commission system, where UC charges fixed percentages depending on order size, and no commission exceeds 20% for any transaction.
  • Flexibility: The workers demanded 4 penalty-free cancellations per month for all partners. They also demanded that cancellation from workers with a 24-hour notice attract no penalty. Existing workers should also be allowed to pause their ID for personal reasons without incurring rejoining fees or having to re-open their account, the workers demanded.
  • ID blocking: Blocking IDs, the gig work term for suspensions, should be rule-based and only be done after 3 strikes of serious misconduct. Workers also asked that the IDs of colleagues which were arbitrarily blocked be reinstated.
  • Anti-harassment helpline: Urban Company workers demanded a 24×7 non-automated helpline for harassment and security issues. They also demanded an internal forum to discuss issues and find resolutions with managers.
  • Social security: Health and accident insurance must be provided to all UC workers.

How did Urban Company respond to these demands?

In response to queries sent by MediaNama, Urban Company shared a 12-point plan to improve working conditions effective from October 14. Some significant changes in the plan include:

  1. Removing temporary blocks: The company has decided to remove all algorithmic blocking of workers apart from quality blocks.
  2. Commissions: For beauty categories, the company reduced the highest commission slab from 30% to 25%. Average commissions after this change come out in the range of 20-22%. Notably, the average commission is still more than the 20% maximum demanded by workers.
  3. Reducing penalties: The company reduced the maximum cap on monthly penalties per partner per month to Rs 1,500, from an earlier cap of Rs. 3000.
  4. SOS helpline: The company agreed to a dedicated SOS helpline for issues faced by women partners.
  5. Dignity of work: Catering to a demand by workers, the company will start sensitising customers on the app to provide both water and bathroom usage to workers. Customers who mistreat partners will be blocked from using the Urban Company platform.
  6. Insurance: The company will set up a help desk to facilitate claim filing and reimbursement for life and accidental insurance available to all partners. Health insurance, however, will be available only to select workers under the UC Plus programme.

What else have gig workers been demanding in India?

Currently, gig workers are not getting benefits under social security schemes for organised or unorganised workers. The Indian Federation For App Based Workers (IFAT) recently filed a petition in the Supreme Court demanding that gig workers be recognised as unorganised workers under the Unorganised Workers Act 2008, which would entitle them to the following benefits:

  • Life and disability cover
  • Old age protection
  • Provident fund
  • Employment injury benefit
  • Housing
  • Educational schemes for children
  • Old age homes

Current social security for gig workers: To provide equivalent benefits to gig workers, the government devised the Code on Social Security 2020. Under this code, social security schemes can be funded by the government, aggregators, the state government, or CSR. The code, however, is yet to be put into effect.

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