20-year-old Chennai delivery agent dies in accident, family asks company to compensate

Kesavan, a 20-year-old student at Chennai's Quaide Milleth College who doubled up as a delivery boy and was on the payroll of a third-party vendor for Flipkart, died on May 21 after his bike was hit by a lorry.
Kesavan Flipkart Delivery Boy Death
Kesavan Flipkart Delivery Boy Death

For a long time, Kesavan's seven-member family settled in Pallikaranai, a south Chennai neighbourhood, ran on single income: the daily wage earnings of his father, who worked as a mason. It changed nearly two months ago when the 20-year-old visual communication student with Chennai's Quaide Milleth College for Men chose to be a gig worker like many others from his milieu, whose earning potential were disrupted by the pandemic.

Kesavan's hopes of supporting his family met with an abrupt end on May 21 when the two-wheeler he rode was hit by a lorry near the Velachery MRTS station as he returned from work. He was rushed to a government hospital nearby but breathed his last while being given emergency care. The logistics firm he had signed up with – City Link Portal Private Limited, based in Bengaluru –  had assigned him Flipkart deliveries, according to his family. His shift would begin at 5 in the morning and end by 2pm and the part-time nature of his work let him attend the evening classes as a second year undergraduate student. On May 21, a Saturday, Kesavan began his work at 5am as usual but could log off before 2pm since he had met his delivery target. He parked the E-scooter provided by the company and headed back home in a different bike, and met with a fatal accident.

Kesavan’s death has opened several questions about the obligations of an employer towards part-time workers with whom legal contracts are often not signed. His family now wants City Link to compensate them for his death but they are in dark about the nature of the contract Kesavan had entered with the firm, a third-party vendor. The staff of Quaide Milleth College for Men, where Kesavan was enrolled as a student, is now helping the family in this regard and have formed a committee.

“It's been over a week since Kesavan died, but no one from the company has even visited our home,” says Jayaprakash, brother of Kesavan. “It was only after his college became involved, did they ask for his death certificate and the post-mortem report. They first told us they would come home on Monday, May 30. Then they postponed the meeting to the next day and said they would meet us on the college premises. 

City Link is a third-party vendor which provides delivery personnel for companies such as Flipkart. The FIR based on the complaint of another employee, who does Flipkart deliveries and was witness to the accident, also says that Kesavan was a part-time delivery boy for the e-commerce giant. Yet the exact nature of his employment is unclear as neither City Link nor Flipkart have answered queries raised so far. 

Legally, employees are entitled to benefits under various labour laws. But in the case of Kesavan, his family is unsure whether he signed a contract or not. His death therefore opens up several questions but not enough answers.

Staff and faculty members of the Quaide Milleth College, which formed a committee to support Kesavan’s family, had met the representatives of City Link to persuade them to pay compensation. Manikandan, a professor who is in touch with the family, says that despite meeting two staff members of City Link in Chennai, there was no clarity on the issue of compensation.

“City Links told us that they are delivery partners for Flipkart. Workers like Kesavan have a set shift and a delivery target for that day. If the delivery personnel complete the target ahead of their shift ending, they are free to log out,” says Manikandan.

Manikandan adds that to his and the family’s knowledge, there does not appear to be any work contract documenting the terms of Kesavan’s employment. “The system seems to be that once someone joins, they are given a week’s training and are assigned a team lead after which they start work. A register notebook of staff shifts seems to have been maintained,” says Manikandan

Dawood Mia, the correspondent of Quaide Milleth College, points out that the pandemic has led to an uptick in low-income college students taking up part-time delivery work. Kesavan too took up the work due to his financial situation.

In light of Kesavan’s death, perplexing questions that come to mind are: who exactly should have ensured that employees like Kesavan are insured? The company, City Link, that allegedly hires delivery personnel in the capacity of a third-party vendor, or the company for whom Citylinks was providing delivery personnel to? What benefits, if any, are such part-time workers such as Kesavan eligible for? Do they have accident insurance, for example, given that their work requires them to spend long hours on the road? 

Shaik Salauddin, a member of Indian Federation of App-based Transport Workers ( IFAT) that fights for gig workers rights, says that in the case of accidental deaths, particularly when the delivery personnel has been hired through a third-party vendor, the company the workers are making deliveries for, does not take any responsibility. He adds that it makes no difference if Kesavan has logged out or which bike he was using, since there is no legal framework to protect these employees anyway. “This is what we have been fighting for, that regardless of whether they are full-time or part-time employees or working under third party vendors like Shadowfax or City Link, workers who die in accidents must be compensated as per the guidelines in the Workmen Compensation Act. Also, it should be irrelevant whether the worker was on active duty or leaving the place of employment at the time of the accident. If someone was killed in an accident on the way home from their place of work, it’s hardly possible to have been in that spot, without having been at work in the first place. Of course it is still a work-related death,” says Salauddin.

TNM also spoke to Kaveri Medappa, a doctoral researcher at the University of Sussex who has been studying app-based workers in Bangalore. “Flipkart, when they launched, used to be one of the few companies to offer proper contracts, decent salaries and reasonable targets to their delivery personnel. The reliance on third-party vendors by companies like Swiggy, Zomato, Grofers or others, seems to have pushed Flipkart to adopt a similar model, which is extremely unfortunate. Such models, consider delivery personnel 'self-employed’ or ‘partners’ or ‘micro entrepreneurs’. This change has led to the sector becoming more and more informal, despite the companies being big, multinational, formal corporations themselves. And scope for accountability has therefore shrunk.” 

Kaveri adds that in cases such as that of Kesavan, it is likely that City Links will be liable. “Legally speaking, the party who should be responsible will be this company called City Link. Back in 2019 when the Karnataka government wanted to draft laws to regulate this sector, many companies such as Flipkart, Swiggy, Amazon etc. were there. At that time, Flipkart’s representative said that they pride themselves on giving proper contracts and salaries to delivery workers, that these workers are given full-time employment and provident funds. So Flipkart should at least be able to tell you who is responsible in Kesavan’s case. Also as parent companies, Flipkart should be ensuring that minimum benefits are given to workers even if they are to even third-party employees.”

TNM made multiple attempts to reach out to City Link through telephone and email but there has been no response from the company so far. We also learnt that the Chennai office is only an operations hub with a supervisor present, but no senior officials sit there. We further, made a visit to the Bengaluru address listed on their website but it turned out to be a back-end office. Email queries sent to one of the company directors remain unanswered. The story would be updated once we receive a response. Flipkart too did not respond to the story.

Related Stories

No stories found.
The News Minute