The Alienation of Gig Workers as a Business Model: How a Rapidly Expanding Platform Economy Relies on Locking Workers in

Author: Yashoroop Dey
Each year, the gig economy rapidly increases demand for gig workers during festival seasons. The gig economy has been growing rapidly in India, with a massive consumer base from tier-1, tier-2 and tier-3 cities. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, gig workers were deemed essential workers and the services were allowed to operate. However, for such an expansive and deemed essential sector, the bargaining power of the gig worker remains concerningly low. The working conditions are poor, with the entire gig workforce receiving less than a living wage, and in the majority of cases, the lack of a minimum wage as well. Proponents of gig work have lauded it for its flexibility, suggesting that the worker can choose to work and earn according to their ease. However, various gig work unions and workers have claimed otherwise. This can largely be attributed to the design of the platform contracts with the worker, which use a system of nudges and arbitrary rules that entrap the worker into the role. Additionally, the lack of a personal connection between the gig worker and the company, as well as no geographical centre by which the worker can collectively interact with other workers, causes alienation of the gig worker and fosters a sense of helplessness. This is particularly beneficial to the company, which relies on low to no transparency and an attitude of “take-it-or-leave-it” towards the gig worker, in order to force long working hours for low pay. This paper discusses how worker alienation is a conscious strategy of the burgeoning gig economy, which keeps workers helpless and underpaid. It uses the Fairwork ratings to show a situation of non-commitment towards the workers well-being by major gig platforms.