Protests against the new payment structures put in place by food aggregator Swiggy have been on for five consecutive days in Hyderabad, with delivery executives alleging that their income has dropped at a time they have already been hit by the pandemic. For a significant amount of time during the lockdown, restaurants, and by extension delivery services, were told to remain shut in the capital city.
Hyderabad is not the only city where protests are being held. Protests have also been ongoing in various parts of the country, and clips have gone viral from Chennai.
The Indian Federation of App-Based Transport Workers (IFAT), which has been supporting the protests in Hyderabad, has said that the aggregator must revise the payment structure and incentive structure upwards â€śconsidering the reduction in consumer demand and working hours.â€ť These structures vary from city to city.
IFAT's National General Secretary Shaik Salauddin said that along with the reduction in demand, increase in fuel prices means that their costs have gone up, rides have dipped and at a time like this, the incentive structure has changed.
â€śThe change meant a reduction in their earnings from Rs 500-600 per day to less than Rs 200-300 after working for more than 12 hours. The delivery workers are already under huge financial stress since the last three months because of the lockdown and the company is being insensitive to their needs,â€ť IFAT said.
Swiggyâ€™s delivery executives are not employees of the company and hence, are not on the payroll. They are gig workers, who get paid based on many factors including their base pay, per kilometre costs, and incentives which could be daily, weekly or monthly and more.
â€śIt is important to note that the service fee per order is based on multiple factors to adequately compensate our partners including distance travelled, waiting time, customer experience, shift completion and incentives,â€ť a Swiggy spokesperson told TNM.
In the revised payment structure, the base fare per order has been reduced to Rs 15 per kilometre for each order, from its earlier rate of Rs 35.
However, Swiggy argues that Rs 15 is the base fare, but there are no delivery partners who earn only this amount per order.
â€śRegular competitive benchmarking shows that Swiggyâ€™s delivery partners receive an industry-best service fee, even with this revised structure. This Rs. 15 component is ONLY ONE of the components of the payout. Naturally, zero active delivery partners in the city have earned only this component. Most delivery partners who actively delivered during the week made over Rs 45 per order,â€ť a Swiggy spokesperson told TNM.
However, the experience of delivery workers has been otherwise. An executive in Hyderabad pleaded with the company not to tweak rules at a time that work is less, and that they are delivering food for people who are COVID-19 positive as well.
â€śPreviously, if we clocked Rs 900, we used to get an incentive of Rs 200. We would work from 11 am to 11 pm and would make some profits. Now, they have increased rides, reduced payment, they said if we get Rs 375 we get Rs 150 as incentive. They say things like this and surge costs etc, but nothing is getting added to our final payout. We are not getting incentives. At this time donâ€™t play with the rules,â€ť he said.
â€śIn the current pay-out, incentives arenâ€™t being added, and itâ€™s not even helping our financial situation. Our request is that they pay us like they did before. Now the amount which you are giving us, incentives are not getting added and we already have financial problems. We request you to give us payment as per the old structure, we donâ€™t need the new one,â€ť he added.
Mohammed*, another worker, a Swiggy delivery executive for 1.5 years and a father of two, says that they barely have enough to cover costs, but not enough to pay the school fees of his children â€” which needs to be paid if his children need to attend their online classes. In addition to this, his instalments on loans that he has taken out need to be paid as well.
He says that the company has told them that they can work at this rate or do something else, but it is also a time that no jobs are available, he says.
â€śWhy does anyone work? They do it for their families. 60% of the people have left their families, but instead of increasing the amount paid they are decreasing it.
â€śThey are charging the customers and the restaurants, but why are you decreasing payments for us with just a 24 hour notice,â€ť he asks Swiggy.
Contrary to Swiggyâ€™s stance, Mohammed says that he has seen a significant drop in earnings after the new system was put in place.
However, he adds that each zone used to have an office or a manager they could speak to for their grievances, which was earlier removed. Now even if they protest, there is no one to hear their problems, he says.
Swiggy maintains that this was because these communication channels were streamlined a few months ago, starting with Hyderabad, and they have been reaching out to delivery partners to inform them of the same.
Swiggy says that along with the incentives, delivery workers earn over Rs 45 per order (and that some high performers earn even Rs 100), and that the new structure has only reworked the previous structure. IFAT, however, has said that the delivery executives are â€śunable to meet the unrealistically high requirement of incentiveâ€ť due to fall in demand.
â€śAs a result, workers have to bear an additional cost of Rs 100-200 rupees from their earnings for petrol. At the end of the day, an essential delivery worker spending more than 12 hours on the road, risking his life amidst the virus is earning less than Rs 400 per day. We demand that the food delivery companies be sensitive to the working condition of the worker and revise the incentive structure which can be practically achieved in less than 10 hours,â€ť IFATâ€™s National General Secretary Shaik Salauddin said.
While these problems are amplified due to the lockdown, this is hardly the first time. The absence of worker protections for gig economy workers is glaring, despite being called essential workers at a time the entire nation went into lockdown. The Union government has attempted to cover gig workers as part of the Code on Social Security Bill, and the Karnataka government has mulled a law for the gig economy, but for now, gig workers are on their own.
What Swiggy has to say
â€śWe have always maintained that our delivery partners are the backbone of Swiggy; more so in the current scenario where they have enabled us to serve millions of fellow citizens as an essential service. It is our constant endeavour to ensure that their service fee is sustainable even in the most difficult of times so that they are able to continue serving our consumers. During the lockdown, when many cities were shut, we financially aided delivery partners who continued to log-in despite not being able to deliver any orders. In an industry first, we supported close to 40,000 delivery partners to the tune of Rs 18 Cr in earnings guarantee to tide through the lockdown.
As the food and essentials delivery segment continues to register an upward trend in orders and the festive season approaches, our delivery fleet in the city is growing in strength to be able to fulfil this demand. We remain committed towards the well-being of our delivery partners and helping them understand their service fee payouts better.â€ť
Swiggy added that its fleet is back to its original strength and growing week-on-week to keep up with increasing demand.