Time to empower gig-workers by clustering them into ‘Community based collaborative Co-operatives’

Back in 2017, companies like Infosys, Wipro and Persistent Systems began inching towards the demand-supply model of hiring by including freelancers for their short-term projects. Thus signalling the inception of what we call the ‘gig economy’ or ‘uberisation’ of the workforce where talent is hired on contract for short term assignments.

Since then, the size of gig workers has only grown in India. A 2018 news report estimated that the country has over 15 million freelancers—about 40% of the world’s freelance jobs. A report by ASSOCHAM puts the annual growth rate of the gig economy at 17 per cent and predicts that it will touch $455 billion by 2023. Benefits such as costs, organizational agility, access to diverse skill-sets and flexibility to scale workforce are driving the demand for skill-based hiring in the market. Diversification of work portfolio and income sources are encouraging talent to take up gig opportunities.

In the current scenario, this move towards workforce uberisation will become more entrenched. As business centres open up amidst the ceaseless spread of the pandemic there will be new health safety and hygiene measures that they have to follow. This requires manpower that has the knowledge of the current standard operating procedures (SOPs). We foresee demand surging for workers in the sanitisation and hygiene space across cities and villages.

The government is now reinforcing its thrust on digital healthcare and use of telemedicine so that medical care can be extended to the rural population who do not have access to specialists and hospitals which are mostly concentrated in urban areas. Newer facilities are springing up in the form of isolation and quarantine centres, surveillance and monitoring, and elderly care units. To support these new developments, the need for paramedics will rise. (with vaccine for COVID round the corner, the immunisation to 1.3 billion Indians will be the largest healthcare gig we need to gear up for).

The current pandemic has also seen an explosive growth in the e-Commerce segment with an unprecedented move by consumers towards online purchasing intensifying the need for workers such as delivery boys. As per an estimate over half of new employment in India is being generated by platforms employing gig workers like Zomato, Big Basket and UrbanClap.

Yet, we haven’t been able to reach the maximum potential that a gig-economy can offer to a country like India – housing one of the world’s largest working populations and holding an economy so strongly characterised by micro-entrepreneurship. While skill certification from credible sources and reliability deter employers from hiring gig workers. Lack of policies to protect the interests of these workers coupled with underpaid work, non-payment of dues, poor quality work dissuade talent from opting for contract work.

Technology and a platform approach can be the single most effective answer to these challenges. It can act as an aggregator connecting multiple threads – from skilling the gig-workers in the emerging areas especially the COVID induced ones, certifying their knowledge to connecting them to the market that needs these gig workers.

For the workers, the platform can function as a unifying force. It can create micro or nano entrepreneurship opportunities for youth across various local communities in niche areas such as healthcare or sanitisation and hygiene. Facilitate sourcing of kits and resources for their businesses. Cluster entrepreneurs under each skill and help them build up as collaborative co-operatives joint force as they negotiate wages, timely payments or extended benefits like insurance or medical cover in return for the services they render to bigger employers. 

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