Priceless but unprotected: Asian concert workers fight for their rights


Bangkok

Emboldened by the victories of New York delivery men in the Netherlands, concert workers in Asia are increasing the pressure for better terms from the app-based companies that have thrived during the pandemic.

Platforms, like their counterparts in the United States or Europe, have taken advantage of lax labor protections to demand long hours in exchange for low wages and few perks like sick pay or health coverage, advocates say Rights.

“The platforms were successful in rigging it,” said Balaji Parthasarathy, senior researcher at FairWork India, which assesses companies in the concert economy.

“This is where regulation can help – it will define when they can be treated as employees and when as partners, and what benefits they should receive,” he said.

As the scrutiny of app-based businesses increases in the region – in part due to worker protests – authorities are starting to call for tighter legal protections.

Chinese regulators in July ordered online platforms to ensure delivery workers earn more than minimum wage and have access to insurance coverage, while the Singapore government plans to increase protections for these workers.

In India, where around 5 million people work in the odd-job economy, a social security law was introduced last year to extend benefits to this segment – but it has yet to be implemented. implemented by States.

Last week, a union representing around 35,000 Indian workers filed a petition with the country’s highest court to seek social security benefits from platform companies such as Uber, Ola, Zomato and Swiggy – the first lawsuit in this type in the country.

“This is an important step; platform companies are fairly new in India, and although we have seen localized strikes, workers did not have a united front before, ”said Pradyumna Taduri, researcher at FairWork.

“But the workers started to assert themselves vocally and to push back. And the visibility of the sector – especially food delivery people, drivers – makes it hard to ignore them, ”he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Health care and insurance for delivery people

The concert economy – where people flexibly take to work from app-based platforms – exploded during COVID-19 lockdowns as people needed goods and food delivered to their homes , and as millions of newly unemployed people looked for work.

But many people drawn to the work on stage for its flexibility said they were being exploited.

With platforms typically classifying workers as independent contractors, half of online workers earned less than $ 2 an hour, with workers in developing countries earning 60% less than those in developed countries, according to the United Nations.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he was “particularly concerned” about delivery men who are “just like employees” but lack basic job protection and find it harder to afford housing, health care and retirement.

The city-state plans to provide concert workers – especially delivery staff and drivers – with better pension and housing arrangements, injury insurance and bargaining rights, said Danny Quah, deputy. -President of a government advisory committee set up to study the sector.

“Flexibility doesn’t mean without protection,” said Quah, professor of economics at the National University of Singapore.

“We want platform workers to enjoy an appropriate level of protection in the immediate present and for their future … this is important not only for Singapore but for any country,” he said. added.

Part of the problem is that workers are not classified as employees, which means their associations do not have the same weight as unions, said Yeo Wan Ling, adviser to the National Delivery Champions Association and the National. Private Hire Vehicles Association.

“We call for stronger legislative support to better represent these workers,” she said.

London-based Deliveroo, which has around 9,000 passengers in Singapore, said it welcomes the move to improve conditions for its delivery people – as long as their self-employed status does not change.

“Runners should have flexibility and security and we are in favor of increased protection for runners, as long as this does not compromise their independent status,” said a spokesperson.

Balance interests

There were nearly 800 digital work platforms – from food delivery to website design – around the world last year, up from around 140 a decade earlier, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).

The boom is an opportunity for the economy, Quah said, adding that the goal in Singapore was “to find a way forward that balances the interests of all”.

Part of this involves studying the decisions of concert workers around the world and seeing how they might be adapted to local conditions.

Unlike North America or Western Europe, in poorer countries like India, app-based jobs “are not jobs, but livelihoods,” Parthasarathy said. .

Hundreds of thousands of workers in India depend on these companies for their livelihoods, said Shaik Salauddin, national secretary general of the Indian Federation of Application-Based Transport Workers (IFAT) who filed the lawsuit.

After strikes and petitions to state governments fell on deaf ears, Mr Salauddin said they were inspired by the legal victories of fellow workers around the world.

“We’ve seen that in many places like London and Los Angeles, workers like us have rights – that’s what we want too.”

This story was reported by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


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