By Dr. Gyan Pathak
The women labour force participation in India has remained low, oscillating between 16 to 23 per cent in the last few years chiefly because structural barriers ranging from access to education, lack of skilling and a direct correlation between gender or disability and incidence of poverty. Moreover, the majority of them working are in very low quality of jobs. Now, the emerging trend suggests that they are more likely to take up platform jobs after their education and marriage, an unenviable situation, that a NITI Aayog study released recently called ‘an emerging positive trend’.
The Modi government think tank, since NITI Aayog is creation of PM Modi after dismantling the former ‘Yojana Aayog’ in 2014 when he became Prime Minister of India, bringing forward such a comment as ‘emerging positive trend’ is unfortunate at a time when the country’s women workforce have been aspiring for decent good quality regular salaried jobs with full social security coverage. It could have been done only by removing barriers in way of women workforce, not in any other way, and of course not by promoting ‘gig and platform’ jobs having little social security with majority of them are of low quality.
Nevertheless, Modi government is pushing Gig and Platform Economy in a big way, hence the study titled ‘India’s Booming Gig and Platform Economy: Perspectives and Recommendations on the Future of Work’, at the cost of PM Modi’s own promise of ‘work with dignity for all’ which would drive workforce in general and woman workforce in particular into low quality jobs. It would have greater implication on women workforce who might be landing into a scenario of all sorts of exploitations.
As the title suggests, India’s Gig and Platform Economy is booming. The study also says that Platforms businesses are actively working towards value creation in terms of skilling, digital literacy, financial literacy and inculcating entrepreneurship spirit, and praises platforms for offering flexibility and choice of labour to all workers in general and women and PwDs (persons with disabilities) empowering them to monetize their idle assets when and where they want. This benefit is missing in traditional employment sectors. Platforms are thus attractive avenues of livelihood opportunities for women and PwDs, it says.
However, as of now, even the study says, the platform economy relies on innovation to provide access to skill development, social security, access to finance and job creation, which are the key pillars of inclusive growth. This comment indirectly accepts the precarious present situation of the gig and platform economy with special reference to workforce in general and women workforce in particular. Moreover, the recommendations suggest a great deal of other things that our workforce is suffering in the gig and platform sector.
The very first recommendation for the industry suggests how much difficulty surrounds our female workforce. Gender Sensitisation and Accessibility Awareness Programmes for workers and their families is recommended with partnership with civil society organizations (CSOs) and NGOs to promote legal, economic, and social rights of women, especially from marginal and vulnerable backgrounds.
The second recommendation suggest for gender and accessibility inclusive communication, systems, and processes. It also gives desirable example that Platform businesses can ensure there is a higher share of women as managers and supervisors, forgetting the fact that such things could not even done in the traditional working environment in the country, what can women hope for in the gig and platform sector that has not even fully emerged?
In one of its recommendation it talks about skill development and asset ownership in partnerships with governments, CSOs, and allied businesses to reskill and upskill women and PwDs while also facilitating their access to assets. Other recommendations include better infrastructure and work design to create enabling environment for women and PwD workers, and facilitate access to social security benefits for women and PwDs. Such things are yet to be done under the present government, public, and private sector policies, especially relating to women workforce, being vigorously pursued by the Modi government, and hence there is no guarantee that in the nascent emerging gig and platform sector would even be able to do so in near future.
Therefore, the whole emphasis on the Gig and Platform Economy is misplaced and it has been pushed by the Modi government at the cost of traditional jobs. Since this government is not able to provide decent quality regular salaried jobs to nation’s workforce and over 90 per cent of them are condemned to work as informal and low-paid low quality jobs, it is simply an expediency to lead people dream in the name of gig and platform jobs creating hype about their being able to enhance the prospects of livelihood.
The recommendations for the Government, Civil society, Allied businesses, and Nonprofits are even too dreamer to realize, which Modi government would or could never do, not to talk about other players. It can be commented by our general experience. For example, full social security coverage is and old demand of the workforce which is yet to be fulfilled even in traditional world of work. Therefore, ensuring universal coverage of platform workers through Code of Social Security recommendation ceases to have any face valued since the difficulties preventing social security coverage now cannot be wished away in the hands of the Gig and Platform Economy.
Similar will be the case with other three recommendations related to women which include bridging skill gaps by carrying out periodic assessments and partnering with platform business for onboarding skilled women and PwDs, reaching out to unbanked and underbanked women and PwDs through FinTech services, and incentive inclusive businesses – women led-platforms or platforms that encourage recruitment of women employees and PwDs.
One of the recommendations relating to gender sensitization is too ambitious in the present context of very low level or female workforce participation and its background of neglect and apathy of the Modi government. Organize gender sensitization and accessibility awareness programmes for all public-facing personnel from traffic cops and law-and-order police to toll booth operators, et. al, it recommended. Make the aggregate data publicly available, the last recommendation says, to enable robust decision-making by the ecosystem. It is not too much to hope that the Modi government would do it that has always been guilty of not maintaining and providing timely and accurate data regarding the workforce? The whole study is thus intended to create a favourable atmosphere for Gig and Platform Economy, that is essentially motivated towards profiteering, but not really for the benefit of the workforce in general and women workforce in particular.
We must take note of the comment made in the study that says, “Being in its nascent stage, the platform economy in India is yet to be studied comprehensively. Not only are there sever data gaps when it comes to enumerating gig and platform workers, there is much to be explored on the regulatory front as well. The exercise of policy design and implementation must keep its specific subjects and well defined purpose, in order to be effective.”
Modi government therefore must act to provide jobs to female workforce by removing the structural barriers to their employment and employability in general and in comparison to male workforce in particular. In place of doing away with this imbalance, since women and children suffer the most in all crises and circumstances, PM Modi’s penchant for mesmerizing people with dream after dream is dangerous for the country. (IPA Service)