A section of Zomato delivery partners in Bengaluru who took part in protests starting since Friday over the new payment structure say that they have been barred from accessing the app. These delivery executives allege that the few of those whom the company has identified as organisers of the protest are being targeted, and their accounts have been suspended.
Arun, one of the organisers of the protests in Bengaluru's Electronic City zone said, "I do not have access to the app now. Don't know when I have been debarred. I am not sure when exactly this happened since I last logged in on Friday. Now other than screenshots, I have very little proof of the kind of work I have done as they are not letting me log into the app."
Arun further complained, "We are not called employees and do not enjoy any such benefits. We are called partners, but then why does the company change the rates without consulting us?"
When contacted, a Zomato spokesperson confirmed to TNM that some accounts were suspended.
"Certain delivery partners (0.1% of the Bangalore fleet), who were found instigating and hindering services for other partners pursuing their deliveries, have been momentarily suspended. We are in discussion with all our delivery partners in the city and regret the inconvenience caused to our users,‚ÄĚ the spokesperson said.
At least 6,000 delivery executives across Bengaluru and Mumbai‚ÄĒ two of the major food delivery markets have partially or fully logged out of the app protesting the recent unilateral move by the company. They say that the new fares will significantly affect their quality of life.
However, no delivery executives from Mumbai have reported suspension of accounts yet.
In Bengaluru, Arun is not alone. Those leading protests in the 20 odd localities in Bengaluru have also faced the same fate.
Sunil Suresh, another such delivery executive from Sahakarnagar in Bengaluru has also lost access to the app. "The company has blocked around 10 such executives from every locality,‚ÄĚ he claims.
The executives say that they do not know who their team leader or the manager is. They also do not have any explanation from the company on why they no longer have access to the company.
Other than being debarred from the app, delivery executives allege their payments which are made on a weekly basis has been withheld.
Not the first case
Kaveri Medappa, a research scholar based in Bengaluru studying the working conditions of these app-based workers says that experiences are largely similar amongst platform-dependent on-demand workers. These companies start eating into workers' incomes to increase revenue once they have consolidated their market shares to some extent.
‚ÄúThere have been many accounts from workers who have felt targeted by these platforms for having raised questions with them. Their IDs are suddenly blocked for no reason and they have to spend hours and sometimes days to have it sorted; some have witnessed a drastic reduction in the number of deliveries allotted to them soon after they raise a complaint or express disagreements over pay or orders. So, you see that algorithms are used to control, monitor and discipline workers,‚ÄĚ she says.
She added, ‚ÄúWorkers often express feeling cheated regarding work conditions, which have an adverse effect on earnings. In countries like Spain and UK, food delivery workers are fighting legal battles to have platforms recognise them as employees and are rejecting the label of "partners". In Spain, the workers have won the case for now.‚ÄĚ
Need for collectivisation
Pointing at the recent legislation passed by the US state of California, which makes it difficult to classify workers as "independent contractors", the All India Democratic Youth Organisation (AIDYO) has called for these workers to unionise.
‚ÄúThese delivery partners are assumed to be ‚Äėfreelancers‚Äô. But they are not independent at all. Companies dodge themselves from providing minimum facilities that any employee can possess. They are pushed to long working hours and gruelling work conditions. There are strict control and supervision over the hours and location of their work and there is no job security. Along with that, there are regular variations in pay-out, delivery charges and incentives. AIDYO wishes to organize these delivery agents to fight for their rights,‚ÄĚ Vinay Sarathy, vice-president, AIDYO, Bangalore Chapter, said.
With inputs from Shilpa S Ranipeta