Gig Workers

Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2021

Standard employment, the long-term work arrangement with one employer, pension and benefits, is vanishing. The pandemic has made the process faster. Non-standard, exploitative forms of employment have existed since ages and remain the dominant arrangement in capitalist societies. The only difference is that another category called ‘gig’ has been added to the existing irregular, contractual, temporary or on-call arrangements. The unifying factor for non-standard arrangements is that none provides protection to workers. Gig workers constitute a significant number of those impacted by Covid-19’s economic fallout in the Western world and Asia.

‘Gig work’ refers to non-standard employment on precarious contracts with digital on-demand platforms. The nature of work varies on the basis of different types of IT-based work platforms. Crowd-work platforms outsource online clerical tasks (eg data entry, business consulting) to a dispersed crowd of workers. Location-based platforms (eg Careem, FoodPanda, AirLyft) allocate offline manual work, such as delivery or transport services, to individuals in a specific geographical area. Online tasks which require a certain level of education appear to be less exploitative than offline manual work.

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Coolies on Contract

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2016

“…Every acquisition that is disproportionate to the labour spent on it is dishonest.”

— Leo Tolstoy

BRONZED-FACED, wearing faded red shirts with a number stitched in white, soaked in sweat, coolies old and young sit astride a pavement under the scorching sun, waiting for passengers to arrive at the Karachi Cantonment Railway Station. A few balance loads of luggage on their red turbans as they walk briskly towards the platform. A precarious livelihood, you might say. Indeed it is, and worse: coolies have to pay a 30pc commission to their contractor from their meagre daily earnings, plus a monthly fee of Rs750 — sans any workplace facilities.

Yet the contractor is not satisfied: he wants his cut raised to 40pc. Sounds outrageous?

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Contract Work and Greed

Since money, as the exciting and active concept of value, confounds and exchanges all things, it is the general confounding and compounding of all things—the world upside down—the confounding and compounding of all natural and human qualities.

Karl Marx

Increasing prevalence of contract work in the labor market is a global phenomenon. Low production cost and increase in productivity–the reasons cited by economists for contract labour—both lead to wealth accumulation. Thus, the hidden motive behind contract work is desire, or greed of the employer, for more profit, more money. No wonder, then, contract work is so confounding that even the ILO finds it full of complexity and riddled with ‘conceptual’ problems.

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