Tech, gig workers demand universal social security, better work environments

Tech, gig workers demand universal social security, better work environments
Photo Credit: Reuters
5 Jan, 2021

After years of scattered protests, more than 400 workers at Google and other units of Alphabet came together on Monday to unionize in Canada and the US. The move is expected to drive more activism related to issues around working conditions and business practices.

The Alphabet Workers Union, the formation of which was reported first by The New York Times, is open to full-time, temporary, and contract employees and will have dues-paying members, an elected board of directors, and paid organizing staff. It has been formed with the support of Communications Workers of America’s Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE-CWA).

Under this initiative, launched in early 2020, CWA provides workers with resources to help them speak up against issues including but not limited to workplace harassment and abuse, unethical business contracts, gender-based pay gaps, lack of transparency, and poor treatment of gig workers, who have grown increasingly useful for big technology players such as Google.

“The CODE-CWA campaign was launched, and we saw how it was well suited to our conditions and goals for organizing, and realized we would need to unite our struggle with the broader working-class struggle in order to take on Alphabet,” the union said in a blog post. “We would need to become more organized, more disciplined, and more skilled in order to win fights against the bosses, who are themselves already well organized into a corporate entity with billions of dollars at their control.”

In the US, CODE-CWA represents the interest of employees from technology companies such as Verizon and AT&T.

Closer home, in India, a dozen civil society organizations and eight labour unions -- including the Indian Federation of App-based Transport Workers  -- have been raising concerns over the protection of the rights of unorganized gig and platform workers from an ongoing labour law reform process.

On December 21, the groups made a joint submission to the Ministry of Labour and Employment, identifying problems with the draft rules under the Code on Social Security, 2020.

Read more: Outlook 2021: Practical, flexible regulations imperative for gig workers and platforms

They said that while the Code itself gives legal recognition to gig economy workers and lays down provisions to extend social security benefits to them, the draft rules for the implementation of the provisions fail to universalize social security for all platform workers. There is an age limit to be eligible, which narrows down the pool of workers who could avail the benefits.

Further, the unions sought clarity on other aspects of the code, including calculation of aggregator contributions and the 90-day period of engagement (given workers could be irregular or working for two aggregators simultaneously) as well as elements like the criteria for exempting aggregators from contributing to social security. 

They have demanded firm protection of the workers’ data shared by the aggregators with the inclusion of clear purpose and use limitation safeguards, ability to audit/edit the data, and a decentralized data management system. A timeline on the constitution of the National Social Security Board for Gig Workers and Platform Workers has also been sought, along with the procedure in place to nominate platform workers’ representatives to the Board.