The introduction of the social security code in India is an important step towards reformation of workplaces. Social security is commonly viewed as a sort of monetary assistance provided by the government to persons who are either inadequately employed or can’t be employed. In India, the term “social security” has a completely different connotation. Our social security system in India is made up of various labour laws that our state and central governments have enacted over several years. These govern salaries and benefits for workers, as well as safe working conditions and regulate labour and industrial relations.
The Code on Social Security, 2020, amalgamates eight previously existing labour laws of centre. These are the Employees’ Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952; Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972; Employees’ Compensation Act, 1923; Maternity Benefit Act, 1961; Employees’ State Insurance Act, 1948; Workers Cess Act, 1996; Cine Workers Welfare Fund Act, 1981; Building and Other Construction and Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008.
This Code isn’t just a collection of previous laws consolidated into one. It has expanded the coverage, made benefits available to all workers in the organised and unorganised sectors, incorporated notions of giving maximum benefits with minimal governance, and demonstrates consistency in approach. The Code aims to bring uniformity to the provision of social security benefits to employees, which were previously divided into different acts with varying applicability and coverage. The Code also attempts to give social security to a large group of workers by recognising and covering workers in the unorganised sector. Under this code, draft rules have been published by the Government.
The law also broadens the scope to include fixed-term contract workers, who will now be entitled for gratuities, whereas previously only permanent employees were covered. As per the Code, an employee is entitled to gratuity if they are terminated from their job after a continual service tenure of at least five years, which is the same as earlier. The events that would lead to gratuity are as follows: retirement, resignation, death or permanent disability as a result of an accident or illness, or termination of a contract under a fixed-term employment contract, or on the occurrence of any event notified by the Centre. In the eventuality of an employee’s death, the gratuity would be payable to the employee’s nominee or legal heir. As a result of the inclusion of the term “expiration of fixed-term employment”, now fixed-term contract employees too will be entitled for gratuity.
Under the new laws, these workers will be covered by social security benefits such as income services and health insurance. Several new terms have been developed, such as gig workers, platform workers, and fixed-term employees, which previously were not acknowledged by any labour laws. Gig workers and platform workers, who are part of the unorganised workforce, were not legally recognized by the Government for many years. Since these workers were not paid on a salary basis, they were deprived of many benefits such as Health Insurance, Provident Fund, etc. The new regulations provide gig workers a shared identity.
Definition of “Gig Worker”In India, the phrase “gig worker” is a relatively recent notion. Generally, a gig worker is someone who works hourly or does part-time jobs in various fields, ranging from catering events to developing software, and many more. The job is generally temporary and performed within a set timeframe under an unusual employment arrangement. The term “gig worker” is defined in the Code as, “a person who performs work or participates in a work arrangement and earns from such activities outside of traditional employer-employee relationships”. The legal identification of gig workers was urgently needed because the concept covers a large group of contract employees. Even a part-time professor can be covered in the gig economy. Contingent employees, freelancers, and independent contractors are just a few examples of prevalent names. The gig economy finds its origin and is mostly popular among youths in western countries. This model enables students to start working at a young age and get expertise in their chosen fields. The perks involved with such employment would inspire individuals in India to pursue these jobs and avail benefits that arise out of it.
Definition of “Platform Worker” In general, a platform worker is someone who works for an enterprise that offers specific services to clients, customers, individuals or organisations through an online platform. Uber, Ola, Zomato, etc. are some of its examples. According to the Code, a platform worker is, “a person engaged in or undertaking platform work”. In order to have a fuller insight, the definition of platform worker must be read in conjunction with the definition of platform work, which specifies what platform work is. It is defined as, “a work arrangement outside of a traditional employer employee relationship in which organisations or individuals use an online platform to access other organisations or individuals to solve specific problems or to provide specific services or any such other activities which may be notified by the Central Government, in exchange for payment.’’
WHAT’S THERE FOR GIG AND PLATFORM WORKERS IN CODE?
The Central Government has proposed to generalize benefits such as health and maternity benefits, as well as life and disability insurance. The state government is responsible for providing benefits to workers such as provident fund, skill upgradation, and accommodation. Nirmala Sitharaman, the Finance Minister of the nation, has also stated that all sorts of workers would now be subject to minimum wage regulations and that the Employees State Insurance Corporation, or ESIC, will apply to the government. The Centre also has no information about how many gig workers at present are now employed in India; however, some independent estimates put the figure at above 130 million. To reap the benefits of these planned incentives, the government has planned to create an online platform for all qualified unorganised workers in the country by June 2021. It’s mandatory for all the gig and platform workers to register on this portal. In order to be eligible, the worker must be over the age of 16 and under the age of 60. Also, they have worked for at least 90 days in the past 12 years. The worker would be required to submit a self-declaration, either online or offline, as well as additional documents, including the Aadhar Card. The Central Government could also choose five members for the unorganised sector to the National Social Security Board, which will frame policies and regulations for gig and platform workers. Furthermore, the Code requires aggregators, or employers in the case of gig workers, to donate a set proportion of their revenue to a social security fund for the unorganised sector’s welfare.
Amidst this pandemic gig economy has been a major help to the country. When we all were staying at our homes due to the fear of getting infected by the virus, various workers of online platforms like Zomato, Swiggy, etc, were providing services ranging from delivering food to delivering medicines.
India is now seeing a booming phenomenon where a lot of start ups are coming up and their business model rests on such kind of an arrangement where they are engaging these people on an independent contract basis meaning thereby, that there is no employer employee relationship with them and so they are not suppose to comply with all the labour laws that exist in the country because all of them focus on an employee so one concern is that if a recognition is given to these gig workers then even the business model of these organisations might collapse because they are engaging these people in thousands of numbers.
Second concern is related to these workers who have constantly been asking for certain minimum benefits for themselves. A couple of years back certain organisations of these workers came forward and filed a PIL in Delhi High Court asking for setting up of a committee that can examine whether they can be treated as an employee, whether they can get the benefits under labour laws but there was no headway on that front. So, its very tricky balance to meet. So, government has tried to do that by not saying that these are employees on one hand and on the other hand giving them atleast social security benefits meaning thereby providing life benfit, health benefit, benefit in relation to accidents. So, the government plans to formulate a scheme under the code on social security which will provide atleast these benefits to gig workers, platform workers there has been an attempt to balance both the interests.
We are witnessing the rise in the trend of people using online platforms like Zomato, Uber etc. on a day-to-day basis and with the increase in the services provided by the online platforms there will be increase in number of people working for these platforms. So it becomes of utmost importance to formulate a robust scheme to safeguard the welfare of the people working for the online platforms.
Although, the government has recognized the workers working for online platforms by introducing the definition in the Code on Social Security but only the introduction of the concept is not enough there are many things needed to be done. First concern is that since that there is only one code that defines the concept of gig workers. Now, when we look at both the definitions of gig workers and platform workers one can interpret that Platform worker seems to be a narrower concept falling within the wider concept of gig worker. Now, this problem paired with the lack of definition in the other codes leads to confusion with regards to what gig workers can avail in terms of protections and minimum wages, etc. The lack of clarity in the definition also leads to large ambiguity allowing the platforms to decide who is a gig worker and a platform worker.
Secondly, the Judiciary should also give certain recommendations for the welfare of Gig Workers as till date we lack on judicial front when it comes to take steps for gig workers. On 19th February, the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom in Uber BV & Ors. v. Aslam & Ors. ruled that Uber drivers should be treated as employees rather than independent contractors, making them liable for all employment-related benefits such as minimum wage, annual leave, and insurance. No such issues with regards to gig workers have been dealt by Judiciary in India. In 2018 the Delhi High Court in the case Delhi Commercial Driver Union v. Union of India was posed with the question that whether these workers can be conferred with the status of worker but before this question could be answered the matter was eventually withdrawn, thereby pushing out employment status of gig workers in India to a later date. So, there is a need for proper guidance on the issue by the Judiciary so that a proper policy could be framed by which the interest of the workers and online platforms can be balanced.
The Central government has proposed to generalise benefits such as health and maternity benefits, as well as life and disability insurance. The state government is responsible for providing benefits to workers such as provident fund, skill upgradation, and accommodation. Nirmala Sitharaman, the Finance Minister, has also stated that all sorts of workers would now be subject to minimum wage regulations and that the Employees State Insurance Corporation, or ESIC, will apply to the government. The Centre also has no information about how many gig workers at present are now employed in India; however, some independent estimates put the figure at above 130 million. To reap the benefits of these planned incentives, the government has planned to create an online platform for all qualified unorganised workers in the country by June 2021. It’s mandatory for all the gig and platform workers to register on this portal. In order to be eligible, the worker must be over the age of 16 and under the age of 60.