#TIL: “Who is a platform worker?”

By Sreelakshmi R.

The Government of India has adopted steps over the past few years to revamp labour governance in the country and overhaul outdated systems and codes to attune them to the times. The debate surrounding these efforts has added many new words to our vocabulary such as “platform worker”, “gig worker” etc. The draft Code on Social Security itself specifies that “platform work” means a form of employment in which organisations or individuals use an online platform to access other organisations or individuals to solve specific problems or to provide specific services in exchange for payment and a “platform worker” means a person engaged in or undertaking platform work.

A similar definition is proposed by the OECD but with added emphasis on the interface of work, the mobile or web application. Accordingly, “platform workers are individuals who use an app or a website to match themselves with customers, in order to provide a service in return for money”. Eurofound’s definition adds that such “services are provided on demand”. In other words, a platform worker is an individual who earns an income by associating with a digital platform which fulfils on-demand services for clients.

Platform work depends on the matching of service providers with requesters through a mobile app-enabled online marketplace. Therefore, a beautician, electrician, driver or any professional who offers services over a digital marketplace are all platform workers. This is distinct from “gig work” which is simply defined as work outside the traditional employer-employee relationship. So a designer or a financial advisor may have a few “gigs” paying them through the year. Platform work is also not completely informal, as there are many distinctions in terms of agency of worker, independence and flexibility, all the while guaranteeing an income. The digital platforms (i.e. platform businesses) also use collaborative bargaining power to mediate access to many new forms of microinsurance, credit and upskilling.

Therefore, a platform worker is an aspirational step up from the traditional informal worker. As the debate on social security of workers in India unfolds, we realise that platform workers too must have unhindered access to social protections. There is a lot happening in this conversation, so keep an eye on this space to know what we think about it!

Today I learnt (TIL) is a weekly series by OMI that brings you interesting nuggets of information that you didn’t know you needed.