Gig Workers’ Access to Social Security
The Indian Federation Of App Based Transport Workers (IFAT) v Union of India
The Supreme Court will decide whether gig workers fall under the scope of 'unorganised workers' and are eligible for social security benefits
Petitioner: The Indian Federation Of App Based Transport Workers (IFAT)
Lawyers: Nupur Kumar
Respondent : Union of India
Do gig workers fall under the scope of ‘unorganised workers’ under the ‘Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008?
Is the failure to include gig workers under the scope of ‘unorganised workers’ a violation of their right to equality?
Does the denial of social security to gig workers amount to a violation of right to life under Article 21, and exploitation through forced labour under Article 23?
In 2019, app-based transport and delivery workers (‘gig workers’) formed a trade union named the Indian Federation of App-based Transport Workers (IFAT). In September 2021 IFAT had 35,000 members including workers with aggregator companies like Swiggy, Zomato, Ola and Uber.
In June 2020, during COVID-19 lockdowns, IFAT organised peaceful protests demanding safety gear and revised payment structures. The companies provided some financial support for protective gear but didn’t revise pay structures.
On September 9th 2021, IFAT filed a petition before the Supreme Court arguing that the current agreements between the companies and the workers violate Articles 14, 21 and 23 of the Constitution of India, 1950.
The gig workers contract with the company, consider them as ‘partners’ and not ‘employees’ thereby exempting companies from providing social security benefits. Firstly, they argue that the failure to recognise gig workers as ‘workman’ or ‘employee’ under social security regulations violates their constitutional right to equality, since they cannot avail the benefits that similarly situated workmen or employees do.
Secondly, they argue that due to low pay, especially during the pandemic, and the denial of social security benefits amounts to exploitation through forced labour. Hence, the constitutionally protected right to work, right to livelihood and right to decent and fair conditions of work of the workers guaranteed under Articles 21 and 23 are violated.
They urged the court to recognise gig workers as ‘unorganised workers’, so they may be covered under social security laws including the Workmen’s Compensation Act, 1923; The Industrial Disputes Act, 1947; The Employees State Insurance Act, 1948; Employees Provident Funds and Miscellaneous Provisions Act, 1952; The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961; The Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972 and ‘Unorganised Workers’ Social Security Act, 2008.