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Digital Labour Platform for Workers and the Necessity of Regulations in Bangladesh (A Socio-legal analysis)

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Introduction:

Digital labour platform is now very popular worldwide as well as in Bangladesh. It is a modern way to embody jobs and businesses through using digital technology in online platforms. According to the Crunchbase database, it has grown more and more rapidly in the past decade, increasing in number from at least 142 in 2010 to over 777 in 2020. These platforms are either online based, with tasks performed online by workers (e.g., freelance, micro-task services, competitive programming), or location-based, with tasks carried out in person at specific locations (e.g., car, food delivery, domestic and care services).[1]

Generally, gig workers are young, students, part-timers, and starters. Here workers may get a chance to choose their working time, or can select a location of employment and also be able to pick up the kind of job they actually want to complete.[2] Even though the online platform economy gives important job amenities and so labourer liberty, there is a problem regarding the ambiguous employment status (confusion between employees’ and independent contractors). Also, problems arise from lack of social protection, lower payment and unpaid wages because of work refusal and absence of representation. Moreover, nowadays platform companies have turned into exploiters rather than offering minimum benefits and protection like traditional jobs. In this platform, earning depends on how much a person can complete tasks.  Sometimes workers make less than the minimum wage. Often it happens that- if delivery workers get injured or become sick, they have to be given unpaid ‘days off’ by the employer. Also, they do not get the
minimum protection (e.g., paid annual leave, insurance, sick leave, work injury benefit etc.) which is a general right to being a worker.[3]

Present Scenario of Digital Labour Platform in Bangladesh:

Nowadays, Bangladesh is doing well in the digital labour platform. It is the second most favourite country in supplying online labourers.[4] Even though digital labour platforms contribute to our economy, there are no specific regulations or laws for welfare and to protect rights of platform workers. Basically, Bangladesh has recognized labours; such as migrant workers and domestic workers. For migrant workers welfare, there is a law called “Overseas Employment and Migrant Worker Rights Act, 2013” and so many additional regulations are available. Also, there is a “Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006” for our domestic labourers. However, there are no laws and regulations for gig workers where they contribute to our economy.

But now it is necessary to make regulations for protecting their rights. Because many platform workers did not get minimum wages which they actually deserve, sometimes they are terminated from their works without any appropriate reasons, especially in circumstances like the Covid-19 pandemic. The employers do whatever they want because of not having standard regulations to set wages. Also, when they were discharged from their work without any proper reasons, no specific remedies are available. Most platform workers are coming to do this work in a pandemic because of economic necessity. But they failed to get social protection. As a result, gig workers have lost their interest to do these jobs and overall, it impacts the economy. “The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the supply chain of online laborers from Bangladesh because of a fall in demand for web-based workers in the developing and developed countries.”[5] Moreover, among the South Asian peers, supply of online labour increased from both India and Pakistan even during the Covid-19 outbreak due to their knowledge in various sectors like IT and software”.[6] So, it’s a huge loss for our economy in this pandemic, that’s why we need a regulatory body to protect platform workers’ rights and also ensure their welfare as well as creating a friendly working place for their betterment.

Different Countries’ Practices:

Already many counties made regulations for platform workers. In Britain, Zego is an organization, determined to give third party liability insurance for Deliveroo, drivers, riders and other courier systems. [7]In US cities, Uber provides its drivers’ insurance coverage against disability, illness, and death. Another one, El Khomri law adopted in France (2016), determines some particular aspects of the digital labour platform, and safeguard the claims of gig workers. It defines online labour platforms to give insurance by chance for getting injury in work and also have rights to get opportunity for continued professional training.[8]

Moreover, the status of one Asian country, Pakistan, regarding platform workers: drivers of Uber are maintained through contract/ partnerships agreement and legal provisions must be made to maintain the following guidelines as specified in “Contracts Act, 1872” and “Code of Civil Procedure, 1908.”

Analysing the above scenarios, it is obvious that Bangladesh needs to be more concerned about giving protection to gig workers. And protection can be given by making laws, policies, and guidelines for providing ultimate benefits to gig workers because of their contribution to our economy.

Some Precedents Regarding Determination of the Status of Gig Workers:

Recently, the British Supreme Court gave a judgment in favour of a plumber of Pimlico Plumbers, where the company intended him as an independent contractor and the court decided that the plumber, Mr. Gray Smith, could not be categorized as an “independent contractor”.[9]

Additionally, the Supreme Court in the UK gave a verdict that, “the drivers of Uber are workers, not self-employed contractors.”[10]

Findings:

As per International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions, universal rights are available for all kinds of workers. Now the question is “how can these rights be applicable to platform workers or how can it be maintained to them? Digital labour platforms are quite complicated; it also engages labour law, policies, regulations and other relevant laws. Additionally, there are so many challenges available including applying universal labour rights. (i.e., giving social security, protection, and collective bargaining to gig laborers, assuring just competition, accountability and maintain transferability). But we need to take initiative for our gig workers’ betterment and try to overcome these challenges.

Recommendations:

In digital labour platforms, there is so much flexibility and a lot of scope of employment. But without any regulations, it will come with the risk of unfair treatment. So, Bangladesh needs to adopt specific regulations, policies, and laws for gig workers regarding setting a process for determining industry-wise least wage rates. Also, labour inspectors are essential to assure implementation of labour law. There should be a platform operator for gig workers which is going to hear from them and also always work to protect their rights. These platform operators may conduct by forming a council which can offer union membership, collective bargaining to workers for their betterment.[11]

Further if workers are employees in practice, then they should not be miscategorized as self-employed. The necessity to adopt social protection systems as well as taking social insurance mechanism systems to give protection to workers in all kinds of stages of contracts and employment. Digital Labour Platform needs to maintain terms and conditions which are going to include the payment system, the terms for work evaluations, and dispute resolution- should be introduced in a way that is going to be easy to understand and get a clear concept. Moreover, if platform workers are given lower than minimum wages, they will have the opportunity to go to the labour court to recover money from the date on which the amount became due to the workers.

Most important point is that when the employment of a worker is terminated by the employer, whether by way of retrenchment, discharge, removal, dismissal or otherwise, the employers will have to give a proper reason for their termination, also the wages payable to him must be paid immediately from the day on which his employment is so terminated.[12] Besides, employers can introduce modern technology to facilitate the performance and payments process for maintaining transparency and accountability.

Conclusion:

From the above analysis, this study finds that the majority of countries take measures for betterment of platform workers. Inspired by these countries, Bangladesh needs to make specific laws, policies, and regulations to protect gig workers’ rights because they are the assets for our country. When we learn to give proper value to these workers, then in return we will find a beautiful nation with a good economy. It is always a matter of giving and taking situations.

Writer: Khadiza Akter Sukhi, LL.B (Hon’s), 4th Year, Department of Law and Human Rights, University of Asia Pacific.

Endnote:

[1] International Labour Organization, infostories, “World Employment Social Outlook 2021: The role of digital labour platforms in transforming the world of work” <https://ilo.org/infostories/Campaigns/WESO/World-Employment-Social-Outlook-Report-2021#introduction> accessed in February 2021

[2]  Finance & economics, “Worries about the rise of the gig economy are mostly overblown” The Economist, 4 October 2018. http://www.economist.com/finance-and-economics/2018/10/04/worries-about-the-rise-of-the-gig-economy-are-mostly-overblown

[3] WageIndicator Foundation, “Frequently asked Questions about the gig or platform economy” (Labor law) <https://wageindicator.org/labour-laws/platformeconomy/frequently-asked-questions-about-the-gig-or-platform-economy> accessed 18 June 2020

[4]  Vili Lehdonvirta, “Where are online workers located? The international division of digital gig work” <https://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/blog/where-are-online-workers-located-the-international-division-of-digital-gig-work/> accessed 11 July 2017.

[5] International Labour Organisation (ILO), flagship reports, “World Employment and Social Outlook 2021: The Role of digital labour platforms in transforming the world of work” <https://www.ilo.org/global/research/global-reports/weso/2021/WCMS_771749/lang–en/index.htm> accessed 23 February 2021.

[6] Star Business Report, “Pandemic cuts demand for online workers from Bangladesh: ILO” The Daily Star (Dhaka, wednesday, 24 Feb, 2021) https://www.thedailystar.net/business/news/pandemic-cuts-demand-online-workers-bangladesh-ilo-2050137

[7]  Zego, “where insurance makes sense for vehicles, for work, for less” <https://www.zego.com/> accessed in 2016.

[8] Boring and Nicolas, “France: Controversial Labor Law Reform Adopted” (constitutional courts, constitutional laws, labour, labour-management relations, 9 August 2016) <https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2016-10-14/france-controversial-labor-law-reform-adopted/> accessed 14 October 2016.

[9] Pimlico Plumbers Ltd and another (Appellants) v Smith (Respondent), [2018] UKSC 29 https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2017-0053-judgment.pdf.

[10] Uber BV v Aslam, [2021] UKSC 5 https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2019-0029-judgment.pdf.

[11]  Azaz Zaman, “How the digital economy is shaping a new Bangladesh” <https://www.weform.org/agenda/2019/06/how-the-digital-economy-is-shaping-a-new-bangladesh/> accessed 19 June, 2019

[12]  WageIndicator Foundation, “Work and Wages” (Labor law) <https://wageindicator.org/labour-laws/labour-law-around-the-world/minimum-wages-reulations/minimum-wages-regulations-bangladesh > accessed 02 February 2020.

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