Nisha Thakuri, a beautician based out of Delhi, unhappy with her job, left the salon where she was working and decided to join the gig economy with the lure of independence and better pay. She is happy to have made the decision at the right time.
“My pay wasn’t good and getting leave at the salon was a task. I prefer to not work during Holi as it gets difficult to step out during the day. But at the salon, I had no choice,” she told Moneycontrol.
Thakuri, who is currently working with Urban Company, a home services marketplace, said she heard stories of no pay or half pay when businesses were shut down due to the Coronavirus-led lockdown last year.
“My sister, who was also working at a salon last year, got half the salary for three to four months. She struggled to meet her daily expenses,” she added.
Amidst the Coronavirus outbreak and the spate of pay cuts and job losses reported in India, several full-time employees across stores, salons and corporates are now shifting to a gig model.
The reasons look clear: the freedom to decide the work timings, flexible leave and no reporting managers.
Hazrat Shaikh, a Mumbai-based AC professional, pointed out that many of his friends who were working with AC brands lost their jobs last year during the lockdown. “That’s when my friends decided to join Urban Company as they saw me getting work through the platform,” he said.
Getting more gig workers
This is probably why Urban Company has plans to onboard 20,000 professionals this year on its platform.
“Currently, we have more than 40,000 gig workers on our platform, of which 35,000-plus are in India. Of the number of gig workers in India, more than one-third are women working with us as beauticians and massage therapists,” said Varun Khaitan, Co-Founder, Urban Company.
He added that the company has already onboarded 10,000 AC (air conditioning) technicians to prepare for the 2021 summer season as they expect demand for AC servicing to more than double this year. “We plan to service about 3 million ACs, covering 1.5 million households across the country, in the next 2-3 months,” he said.
Like Urban Company, another platform that offers home-based services, Housejoy, has plans to onboard more gig workers this year.
“We have onboarded more than 280 employees from March last year to March this year. For us, the top categories are beauty, AC repair, painting and plumbing. So, we will be focussing on getting more workers for these services. For the beauty service, last year, we got 30-40 percent more workers on board as the demand for these services has been very high. Many people don’t prefer to go to salons due to the pandemic and we have many repeat customers for such services,” said Sagar P, Head of HR, Housejoy.
The Bengaluru-headquartered company will be onboarding 10-15 percent more professionals for 2021.
Perks of working on online platforms
These platforms are not finding it difficult to get more gig workers on board because many professionals are ready to leave the traditional style of working.
Like Thakuri, even Shaikh said that the pay is better than what he was getting when he was working for brands like Samsung, Panasonic and LG.
“At service centres (of these brands), I used to get around Rs 8,000-10,000 every month. But now my pay is better. I can get work sitting at home,” he added.
Khaitan said platforms offering home-based services are helping professionals increase their salary by up to 50 percent.
“Independent gig workers (working with online platforms offering home services) are able to earn more than their counterparts in the traditional industry set-up. They also have flexible working hours, giving them the freedom to decide how to spend their time, giving way to work-life balance,” added Khaitan.
When it comes to gig workers, platforms like Urban Company, Housejoy, Uber, Ola, Swiggy and BigBasket employ a majority of such individuals.
Unlike a corporate setting, the labour contract is usually shorter and more specific to the task or job assigned. The nature of payment against the work is more of a piece rate, negotiable, either as wage or partly as profit/reward than a fixed salary.
Manish Singh, who is a driver with cab aggregator Uber, said that the biggest advantage is that he can earn as per his will and also earn bonuses for extra trips.
“Someone else does not decide when I should come to work or whether I should do double shifts. In my corporate job, where I used to be a be a driver for a bank manager, I had to come to work even when I was unwell. Now that is no longer the case,” he said.
Singh said that in his old corporate job, despite people testing positive, he had to report to work or face a pay cut. That is no longer the case. Recent statements by the government also point a similar picture.
Gig workers get government support
The Economic Survey 2020-21, tabled in Parliament on January 29, said the gig economy saw a big boost, led by online retail, due to the COVID-19 -led lockdown.
The survey, drafted by Chief Economic Advisor Krishnamurthy Subramanian and his team, said the lockdown period also saw employers cutting down on staff strength and engaging freelancers or outsourcing tasks to reduce overhead costs.
Legal changes have been implemented by the government to offer better facilities. Till recently, gig or platform workers were devoid of their basic rights and social security because they were neither considered as worker nor employee under the definition of the employee in the labour laws of the country.
Now, the newly introduced Code on Social Security 2020 is providing them social security benefits by defining them exclusively in the category of unorganised workers.
No major shift
Could this be a lifestyle change for a majority of professionals across India? Not yet.
Rituparna Chakraborty, co-founder and Executive Vice-President, TeamLease Services, told Moneycontrol that while the prevalence of gig workers is higher than what it was in the past, it may not be the choice for all.
“Someone who wants job security and financial stability may choose a full-time job. Individuals may choose gig job roles, depending on their individual preferences and career trajectory,” she added