The growing popularity of on-demand online booking for a wide range of services – from ride sharing to repairing tasks or house help – or e-commerce orders is causing a mushrooming growth of relevant online platforms in the country.
Also, more and more app-based gig workers, mostly the youth, are serving them as independent contractors for a living wage through freelancing, instead of waiting for the desired status as an employee.
In 2021, Bangladesh's gig workforce grew to around three lakh location-based gig workers, while around five lakh cloud workers made the country the second-largest online outsourcing destination.
However, the platform economy is expanding without adequate protection of the gig workers' interests, reveals a study by Oxford Internet Institute's Fairwork project in partnership with local social enterprise iSocial and research firm DataSense.
According to the Fairwork report "State of Work in the Bangladesh Gig Economy: Bangladesh Ratings 2022" that was published on Monday, nine major gig employers in the country scored poorly when the questions of fair pay, fair work conditions, fair contract, fair management that dictates the way how the workers are treated at work, and the fair representation or the right to make any collective move.
The study was conducted based on interviews of 91 gig workers serving the nine gig platforms alongside the platform officials.
Largest grocery online Chaldal, on-demand house help provider Hellotask, and diversified blue-collar service provider Sheba XYZ – each scored only 3 out of 10 – the highest score. This, however, is a better scenario than that in the last year when no platform in the industry scored above 1 out of 10.
Ride sharing giant Uber scored 2 this year, while its ride sharing competitor also engaged in food delivery, Pathao, scored 1. Also, Foodpanda – the largest food delivery player, which is also delivering groceries nowadays, scored 1.
Local ride sharing platform Obhai, Daraz's food delivery platform HungryNaki, and Truck booking platform Truck Lagbe scored zero.
The pains of gig workers
In terms of fair pay, the gig workers collectively reported an above-average hourly income of Tk96 as two-thirds of them earned above the minimum wage threshold, equivalent hourly income of Tk50.
Some blue-collar technicians even earn up to Tk500 an hour, while the remaining one-third do not earn a living wage, including some ride sharers whose net income dips to even negative due to higher platform commissions, involvement of intermediaries, and platform loans against mandatory work equipment.
Amid the fact that Bangladesh compels no national minimum wage, platforms are barely guaranteeing a living wage.
Some 89 out of 91 workers serving ride-sharing, food delivery, and on-demand services said they are concerned about their safety and security at work, while they are paid nothing in cases of no work after any accidents.
A painful lack of safety net was reported by workers, as many platforms do not provide sick leave, insurance, or other mechanisms of coverage for income loss.
Only two of the nine studied companies are evidently working with insurers for the financial safety of their workforce, while most internally promote safety awareness and safety gears.
Not all the firms make contracts or terms and conditions clear and accessible to all workers, while workers from seven of the nine platforms felt they were not supported when seeking a redressal for arbitrary penalisation and deactivation by the management.
As the labour law of the land does not conceptually recognise the gig workers and platform workers as workers despite their huge numbers in companies, as they have no union to collectively express their grievances and move for remedies.
Dhaka Ride Sharing Driver's Union emerged as the gig workers' de facto umbrella for solidarity.
Despite so much deprivation, most of the gig workers expressed their overall satisfaction with the work opportunity their platform offers, which Dr Ananya Raihan, chief imaginator of Data Sense and iSocial, interprets as a local paradox in the populated country with fewer jobs.
The Fairwork Report for 2022 was published at a launching event in the capital moderated by The Business Standard Editor Inam Ahmed.
DataSense Research Associate Raiyaan Mahbub and Fairwork Postdoctoral Researcher Dr Mathew Cole presented the findings of the study.
Bangladesh Institute of Labour Studies Director Nazma Yesmin, and National Coordination Committee for Workers' Education Member Razekuzzaman Ratan in a panel discussion raised their flag against the expansion of the platform economy lacking the workers' protection and suggested legal changes to protect their rights of a living wage and social safety.
Sheba Co-founder Ilmul Haque Sajib presented the good practices in his firm and industry that should be promoted.