In 2020 India introduced the new Code on Social Security, intended to replace nine other legislations which provided social security to the employees like Maternity Benefit Act, Employees’ Provident Fund Act, Employees’ Pension Scheme, Employees’ Compensation Act, among others. The Code aims to provide uniformity in providing social security benefits to the employees which was earlier segregated under different acts and had different applicability and coverage. The Government has also published Draft rules framed under the Code for public consultation.
The Code is historic because of its inclusion of platform workers and gig workers to social security funds. The Code specifies that workers engaged on digital platforms be given access to social security in the form of life and disability cover, health insurance and maternity benefits, accidental insurance, creche facilities, old age protection, and any other benefits as deemed fit by the government. Social security will be funded by contributions from the state governments, central government and platform companies. A National Social Security Board for Gig Workers and Platform Workers will be constituted with representatives from government, platform companies, workers, and experts in the area to ensure that all concerned parties are included in planning. All workers must register on a centralised database for gig and platform workers using their biometric identification documents (Aadhaar) to access social security funds. Workers are expected to regularly update their details on this database which includes details of the platforms they work on, their skills, and personal details like address and phone numbers. All workers between the ages of 16-60, who have worked for at least 90 hours on platforms in the past 12 months are eligible to register.
This is a good starting point to extend social protection benefits to workers. However, critical gaps in these rules could also render them ineffective. This blog outlines some of these shortcomings and the ways in which they can be improved to provide meaningful protection to platform workers.
First, the code lacks granularity on the quantum of contributions from platforms and how this will be enforced. It also gives the central government the authority to exempt aggregators from contributions to platform work’s social security. The absence of clear implementation guidelines, explicit statement of the share of contributions to be borne by central and state governments and platform companies, penalties for non-compliance, and mechanisms for compliance monitoring may lead to poor implementation of the Code. These should be clearly specified and obligations on platforms should be made mandatory.
Second, the eligibility criteria does not seem to take into account the rhythms of platform work where workers may work on multiple platforms at the same time, or may use platforms intermittently. It does not explicitly state if social security benefits will be allotted on a pro-rata basis. As it stands, the Draft Rules do not address how the minimum period of 90 days of being engaged as a platform worker
is to be calculated — a mandatory eligibility criteria for registration under the Rules – and allows the central government to prescribe additional eligibility criteria. These provisions are likely to narrow the pool of workers who can avail the benefits under this law. Instead, a basic social protection floor for all platform workers, including benefits such as universal maternal care and accident insurance, should be guaranteed.
Third, the Rules state that data will be shared between platform companies and government agencies to facilitate the distribution of social security benefits through the central database. This data will include workers ’personal data, and in the absence of personal data protection legislation, this has serious implications for workers ’data rights and privacy. It is imperative that the draft Personal Data Protection Bill, 2019 be passed at the earliest to safeguard against state and/or aggregator excesses in this regard. Clear purpose limitation clauses are required which limit the collection and sharing of workers ’personal data. Instead of a centralised database, a federated architecture, with room for democratic and decentralised data management by workers themselves with involvement from state and local government agencies (building on labour welfare models) is a more progressive direction to explore.
India’s draft code on Social Security takes a much needed step in the right direction in recognising and protecting platform workers. However, without adequate consideration of the above mentioned points, the proposed framework may end up excluding many platform workers, enable conditions that allow platforms to circumvent their responsibilities, and give excessive powers to the central government.Platform work is expected to grow in India, but the pandemic has laid bare the vulnerability of platform work. Protecting platforms workers and their rights must be an urgent policy priority for the Indian state.
This blog is based on a collective submission made by Tandem Research and other civil society organisations to the Draft Code on Social Security (Central) Rules, 2020. The full submission can be seen here
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