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Understanding the Rajasthan gig workers law 

The Bill does not appear to create substantive rights for workers, and delegates several crucial aspects to the Welfare Board.

By Sarayu Natarajan and Soujanya Sridharan

This is first part of a two-part narrative. Read the second part here

The Rajasthan government passed the Rajasthan Platform Based Gig Workers (Registration and Welfare) Bill, 2023. In its present form, the Act provides for workers’ welfare through the introduction of a cess on transactions pertaining to platform gig work (PGW), the administration of this cess by a Welfare Board, with limited recommendations on the administration of the fund. In doing so, it places some obligations on platforms/aggregators to provide both information about transactions to calculate cess and in time, pay the amount. While the legislation is undoubtedly a significant move to protect and regulate welfare for platform-based gig workers, it leaves much to be desired.

The current approach envisaged in the legislation may not adequately reflect the empirical realities of platform work. It also does not appear to create substantive rights for workers, and delegates several crucial aspects to the Welfare Board. Indeed, it may expose the Welfare Board to the very platform power it wishes to undo. Dangerously, it does not provide for governance of the Central Transaction Information and Management System it institutes. 

Inconsistencies in the Act

First, the Act does not account for the diversity of work arrangements in existence. Gig work may not be ‘aggregated’ in the sense the Act seems to imagine. One such example is annotation and labelling work – the kind of micro click work that underlies ChatGPT, where work is discrete and task-based, but may not be aggregated or via platforms.

In this context, the Schedule to the Act confusingly lumps together sectors (healthcare, travel, etc.) with the type of work (rideshare). Work that is digitally mediated and performed in a discrete fashion, such as data annotation and labelling and home-based services, has not been expressly included. This work, it appears, is largely performed by women. The Act creates artificial distinctions where there may be shared needs around welfare protections.

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Second, it does not create substantive rights for workers. It fails to outline the kinds of welfare programmes the Board ought to constitute (Section 13). Section 5 merely outlines the broad responsibilities of the Board. There appear to be no obligations on aggregators beyond compliance with the cess provisions. Significantly, the recognition of unions by platform companies and aggregators, an issue that has been a part of workers’ demands, has not been included. 

The specific configuration of rights and duties anchored between the Board and workers may be problematic, given the expansive discretionary powers accorded to the Board. The Board is empowered to notify welfare schemes and policies, with seemingly arbitrary powers to direct the disbursement of funds. In this regard, the Act may unwittingly expose the board to the pressures of the policy negotiation process and the differential abilities of some firms to engage with policy-making. 

In adopting the Board-administered cess structure, the Act seems to have not considered evidence from the difficulties experienced by the Building and Other Construction Workers Welfare Board. The Board mechanism may not account for patterns of migration and flexibility that are definitive of platform-based work that might make location-based claim-making particularly challenging.

Third, and quite alarmingly, the Act does not outline a framework for governance for the Central Transaction Information and Management System (CTIMS). In the current form, it appears that the CTIMS is the single, centralised repository of transaction data. No conditions on purpose limitation or data minimization have been outlined, meaning that many aspects of everyday private transactions may become visible to the state.

Much ground remains untouched

The legislation itself appears to have been built on speedy discussions with limited consultation and public participation in the Bill. Ever since the Act has been passed with no debate in the Rajasthan assembly. Crucially, in its current form, the legislation lends itself to regulatory arbitrage as more states contemplate their own rules for social protection afforded to PGWs. The absence of unified mechanisms for the calculation of cess and administration of the fund can create uneven conditions for platforms and workers across the country. 

Indeed, there is no doubt about an immediate need for clear and precise legislation pertaining to social welfare to protect PGWs from exploitation and insecurity. Protections (health and safety, accident, maternity benefits) and a broader safety net (protections from income volatility, etc.) – there is a need to consider both. However, approaching the question with a sense of the lived experiences of platform work and working towards the delineation of rights for workers and corresponding duties for aggregators is critical. 

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Sarayu Natarajan and Soujanya Sridharan are at the Aapti Institute, and are engaged in research on the platform economy, amongst other things. We are very grateful to Mousomi Panda for her inputs.

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