Every day from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., Mayank * works for Tokree, a grocery delivery app. He then switches to the ubiquitous black and orange Swiggy t-shirt, and from 3:00 p.m. to 12:00 a.m. delivers food from restaurants to homes. “For each Tokree delivery, I get paid Rs 35. But with Swiggy, I only get a minimum of Rs 20 per trip,” he says.
Mayank is one of the country’s over 3 lakh workforce, which suffers the brunt of low wages and poor working conditions in the food delivery and e-commerce industries.
Unable to make ends meet, many of them turn to higher paying delivery gigs. “The evenings are the peak hours for food delivery, that is to say when they pass to Zomato or Swiggy”, explains Kiran Anand, treasurer of the Maharashtra Application Based Transport Workers Union.
It hasn’t always been that way. When Mayank started working for Swiggy in 2018, his base salary – the minimum amount received per delivery – was Rs 40. He doesn’t know how, but he was automatically banned from his Swiggy ID, which has him. did join in 2020 and forced him to start from scratch.
Although the number of orders has increased during and since the lockdowns, due to the reduced base salary, he is making less money than before. With Swiggy, he says: “Before confinement I was easily making Rs 600-700 per day. But now I earn almost Rs 400-500.
Take advantage of competitive salaries
Other companies have used the large-scale disillusionment among delivery partners to their advantage with larger delivery applications such as Zomato and Swiggy.
Tokree reached out to Mayank by accessing a database of Swiggy’s drivers, not only offering better pay, but also incentives to bring new customers on board. Shadowfax and Porter, versatile delivery service companies, are targeting potential drivers by offering a membership bonus and removing onboarding fees.
Santosh, who has a morning shift delivering mail for Shadowfax, admits he prefers it to Swiggy. The appeal is undoubtedly their higher pay; Shadowfax pays Rs 30 per grocery delivery, and Porter pays a rate of Rs 10 per km, with a 15% platform fee. Karan, who works 12 hours a day for Borzo (formerly Wefast), manages to earn over Rs 4,500 in a week and finds the job much more comfortable than Swiggy.
“At least in e-commerce delivery jobs, drivers are guaranteed a certain wage per day and they don’t have to spend hours waiting for orders. They generally finish their deliveries in 4 hours and earn Rs 500 ”, explains Kiran Anand.
Porter, Shadowfax, and Borzo are not small businesses. Each has over a million downloads from the Google Play Store. But they are unimportant compared to the 100 million downloads from Zomato and Swiggy. And as their popularity increases, they too are ready to cut wages. Borzo has done it once before, Karan says.
Zomato, Porter, Borzo, Shadowfax, and Tokree were contacted by email but declined to respond to the story. Swiggy responded with links to the blog posts that are included in the story.
“Businesses compete for workers and consumers, so they have to choose between who they want to attract and how much loss they are able to bear,” says Vidhya Soundararajan, assistant professor of economics at IIT Bombay.
Not a long term option
A Praja Foundation survey carried out in January 2021, into the impact of Covid-19 in Mumbai, found that at least 66% of those surveyed lost or decreased their income due to the pandemic. “Due to job losses during the lockdown, many more drivers have joined [the delivery app space], says Raza *.
This translates into fewer orders per delivery partner, and creates favorable conditions for reduced revenues. Unemployment, therefore, forces them to work for less pay. “Working together has helped a lot of people during the pandemic,” Vidhya said. “But because they don’t involve any skill building, there is no room for improvement. There is also the question of social security – how quickly they can be made redundant. “
Akshay *, a law student with little interest in online courses, turned to deliveries to win a vacation in Kashmir. But for many, this job is a temporary solution to the lack of available jobs.
Gourav has no choice but to settle for the Rs 25,000 per month (not counting gasoline and other expenses) that he earns from Swiggy, although that is half of his salary. before locking. Previously in charge of relations at a small bank, meeting sales targets for loans to MSMEs quickly became unsustainable due to the pandemic. He survived the lockdown on his savings and eventually turned to Swiggy in February 2021.
“There has been an influx of workers from different fields, from engineers, stock brokers to salespeople, but they won’t stay long. They quickly realize that this work is not feasible. Only the very poor and the desperate remain, ”says Kiran.
Read more: Concerns about employment are on the rise for young graduates
The boom in the concert economy
India has seen a proliferation of food delivery and other apps in recent years. A crucial aspect about them is that their large fleet of delivery people are not seen as employees, but as “delivery partners” relieving them of any responsibility for the safety and benefits of the employees.
Anyone with a 2-wheeler (in some cases, a bicycle as well) can apply to become one via the respective “delivery partner” mobile application. This is often presented as theft, with flexible hours, frequent payments, incentives, and easy payouts. But, isn’t it?
In practice, this has resulted in 12-hour workdays without adequate pay for overtime, no vacation, contingency funds or job security, according to many delivery people we spoke to.
This is in stark contrast to the benefits listed on Zomato’s website, including a team of in-office psychiatrists, daycare, and periodic leaves. By positioning them as independent contractors, these companies are not accountable to their larger workforce, which is faced with the uncertainties of road travel, weather and customers.
The compensation and the designations offered are a mandate; they can either take it or leave it.
Companies offer the prospect of earnings above base and distance, such as price increases during rains, dinner time, weekends, festivals and IPL matches.
” I only do this [delivering food] because of the premium. Otherwise I don’t think it’s worth it, ”says Santosh, who has moved from Swiggy to Zomato and is now back with Swiggy. According to his calculations, if it weren’t for the rain waves and the wait time charges at the restaurant, the salary would not cover the cost of gasoline needed to travel the distance. For a 6 km round trip, the paid distance was Rs 23, the rain wave Rs 15 and the wait time at the restaurant Rs 18.
In addition, varying incentives are paid, depending on fluctuating targets. They can be based on the number of orders placed (in a given period), the amount won and the price of the order (from customers). These goals are often difficult for drivers to achieve.
Newcomers, says Kiran Anand, receive incentives based on income targets, without the pay premium, and their low base salary makes reaching doubly difficult.
Another complaint at all levels is the expansion of their “zones” or the areas in which they operate. “Before the lockdown, we were receiving orders within 10 km. But now our distances are up to 14-16 km, ”says Raza, a delivery partner of Zomato for three years with a base salary of Rs 30. For each kilometer after the first three, Zomato pays Rs 6.5. and Swiggy 6 Rs. And although orders can reach the driver anywhere in his area, the frequency of orders is not equal everywhere. The return trip to the reception of the next order is the responsibility of the driver.
The Swiggy Smiles program, a loyalty program, has also been discontinued. He rewarded delivery men and their families with an assortment of vouchers, cinema tickets, loan and scholarship aid, doctors on call, etc.
In return, a blog post on Swiggy shines a spotlight on Swiggy Suraksha, a program providing healthcare and support for Covid-19 afflictions. It offers paid leave in the event of Covid-19 or death in the family, a 24/7 emergency hotline and medical assistance. It even offers medical and life insurance, at Rs 1.5 lakh and Rs 5 lakh respectively.
Distorted wages and working conditions
For most delivery applications, incentives, payments, and order frequency are not uniform across a company’s drivers, even within a single city. Senior associates generally receive a higher base salary because they joined the group when the base salary was higher and due to a gradual increase. Drivers who consistently hit their targets, deliver “lightning fast” and log longer hours have more orders to come. Customer reviews can also dramatically affect a driver’s reputation.
“In Zomato, pilots are divided into levels: Blue, Bronze, Silver and Diamond,” Kiran explains. The lowest level, Blue, receives the fewest orders and no insurance. The frequency of orders increases with the levels. To raise a level, a driver must outperform. Access to the Diamond level requires no refusals or cancellations, almost complete on-time delivery, and a five-star rating.
A single delay or cancellation of an order (on the driver’s side) costs the driver Rs 40 and could result in a penalty. Even the rejection of an order has a negative impact. Asking lots of customer service questions and signing in infrequently can result in a username being blocked. Justified reasons, like bicycle problems, are usually not taken into account, say delivery people we spoke to.
The pay gap and the nature of gig jobs weaken efforts to unite all workers and organize. Companies can respond to strikes by terminating their credentials. The Indian Federation of Application Based Transport Workers (IFAT), which is the umbrella union for application-based transport workers in India, learned of such a strike in Navi Mumbai last month.
The strike ended when workers wrote letters of apology to Zomato to have their IDs restored.
[Note: Some names have been changed upon request to protect their identities.]