Rights of gig workers: lesson from China                                [GS II- SOCIAL JUSTICE, GS III- SOCIO-ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENTS]

Rights of gig workers: lesson from China                                [GS II- SOCIAL JUSTICE, GS III- SOCIO-ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENTS]

CONTEXT: The Indian Federation of App-based Transport Workers, on behalf of gig workers, has filed a public interest litigation in the Supreme Court, on September 20, 2021.


  • Some relief to workers affected by the covid pandemic from the Union government.

  • The ‘gig and platform workers’ to be declared as ‘unorganised workers’ so that they come under the purview of the Unorganised Workers Social Security Act, 2008.

  • The social security benefits from food delivery platforms like that of Zomato and Swiggy as well as the taxi aggregator apps like Ola and Uber.


After the public outrage and succumbing to the pressure, two of its food delivery platforms, Meituan and Ele.me (capturing over 90% of the market share, and employing lakhs of gig workers), committed to end the practice of forcing workers to register as ‘independent businesses’, which has for a very long time, helped these platforms to escape from such responsibilities as employers.

In 2020, a trend covering China, India, the U.S. and Europe witnessed ‘invisible workers’ being pushed towards ‘frontline workers’ because of the pandemic.

 In China, especially Wuhan, the epicenter of the pandemic, there was a clear transition of social discourse in favour of these delivery workers. 

  • People’s Daily, ranked delivery work among the top 10 occupations.

  • Renwu, a monthly Chinese magazine, took an exhaustive look at the pitiable condition of delivery workers across the two food delivery platforms. 

Such platforms shifts the pressure( of receiving orders and maintaining deliveries )onto the workers.


The spurn against such influential platforms had begun long before COVID-19. During the course, strikes in different parts of China have reflected this increasing resentment. 


  •  In early 2021, in consecutive strikes for over two months, the protest against poor working conditions took place by delivery workers.

  •  In cities like Shenzhen, Tongxiang and Linyi, delivery workers protested against new company policies that pierced(cut) their pay per delivery.

  •  A protest in Taizhou witnessed a delivery worker setting himself on fire demanding unpaid wages.

  • In 2018, an Associate Professor (Sociology) at Harvard University, named Ya-Wen Lei, registered strikes in Chongqing. The protest was against “decreasing piece rates” and “unilateral change of contract terms or platform rules”. 


China asserted control over major tech companies, including Meituan for misusing its dominant market position, via the new anti-monopolistic guidelines.

The Chinese government is focusing on “common prosperity”, to narrow a widening wealth gap. The government’s scrutiny over food delivery platforms has expanded.

 The authoritarian context, a weak civil society and the absence of independent labour unions etc. are the factors that left gig workers in China with the only option to strike or protest, despite the risks, to bring some change.

Directions and Guidelines

In July, 7 government agencies jointly passed directions, indicating the online food delivery platforms, not to set assessment criterias as per optimisation algorithms.

The other guidelines like respecting the rights of delivery workers and making sure that they earn at least a minimum wage alongwith social insurance.

  •  Many of these government initiatives have been public-driven. 

  • The bulge of public opinion in China has enabled government regulation as well as the change in company policies.

The INDIAN context: 

In India, any reform/s in this sector is led by delivery workers, and not the public.


  • For 27 days in 2020, close to 3,000 delivery workers from Swiggy went on strike in Hyderabad to protest the slash in remuneration from ₹35 to ₹15 per order. 

  • This year, in the lead up to Zomato’s July IPO, several Twitter accounts set up by delivery workers called customers’ attention to the “exploitative practices” employed by such platforms. 

  • The PIL in the Supreme Court is another major step in this regard.

The biggest lesson from China is the escalation of public opinion that has led to government regulation and change in company policies.

 In the U.S., gig workers have urged the customers to uninstall the Instacart app as a show of solidarity until their demands for better working conditions are met.

 Indians could make an effort to be better informed about the way platforms work by looking out for delivery workers and interrogating about their work conditions, pressures that they face. Indians should understand their conditions and have a soft corner while dealing with them. Furthermore, in the times to come, they should also show solidarity with them, like the chinese.





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