Home India News Sweat and Sacrifice: Inside the Scorching Reality of Delhi’s Gig Workers

Sweat and Sacrifice: Inside the Scorching Reality of Delhi’s Gig Workers

Vipin Singh, a Swiggy delivery partner

Anushka Kogta and Md Kaifee Alam, TwoCircles.net

New Delhi: Seeking respite from scorching temperatures exceeding 49 degree Celsius, Rahul, a 30-year-old Zomato delivery partner, finds solace under the scant shade of a tree. Despite the oppressive heat, he persists in his work, emblematic of the challenges faced by the city’s vast gig economy workforce.

Rahul is among the 7.7 million gig workers estimated by NITI Aayog until 2020. Projections suggest that the gig workforce will triple, reaching 23.5 million by 2029-30. Despite grappling with irregular income, lack of social security and various other challenges, they also contend with the blistering sun daily.

As temperatures in the national capital soar to 49 degrees Celsius, gig workers find themselves battling relentless heatwaves. In a city where gig workers like Rahul form a vital backbone of the economy, their plight is exacerbated by the relentless heatwaves.

Manas Das, a 22-year-old Blinkit worker, echoes this sentiment, earning a modest sum of Rs 700 after enduring 12-hour shifts under the unforgiving sun. “I rarely take breaks during work, and when I do, it’s solely to charge my phone’s battery,” he said, adding that with fewer trees now, they are more exposed to the heat while delivering orders. “I often feel dizzy while delivering food on my vehicle.”

The adverse effects of prolonged exposure to extreme heat are evident on Rahul’s skin, bearing rashes as a testament to the toll taken by scorching temperatures. Clad in polyester uniforms mandated by their employers, gig workers like him face discomfort and health risks in the absence of adequate protective measures.

“I developed an allergy due to the heat. We are required to wear the red T-shirt every day while working. Unfortunately, the red colour is harsh on the skin, but I have no choice but to wear it. If I don’t comply, I face a penalty of Rs 300,” he told TwoCircles.net.

He expressed relief that this summer has been better compared to the last one. Last year, he fell ill for a week due to prolonged exposure to heat. “I couldn’t work for a week because of gastrointestinal issues. It significantly impacted my earnings,” he lamented.

Despite their indispensable role in the gig economy ecosystem, workers such as Rahul often find themselves at the mercy of stringent company policies — with minimal incentives for braving the sweltering heat. This lack of recognition for their sacrifices further compounds their plight.

“We don’t receive any additional compensation from the company, regardless of whether we are working in scorching heat or freezing cold. Conversely, our pay gets docked over trivial matters like opting for a different, shorter route due to traffic or to evade heat waves,” explained Rahul.

He elaborated that he refrains from taking breaks during the afternoon hours because the company awards him two ‘star gigs’ for working from 12-3 pm. These ‘star gigs’ are crucial for him to secure orders.

Dr Irshad Hussain Naqvi, the chief medical officer at MA Ansari Health Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia, underscores the grave health risks posed by heatstroke and dehydration, emphasizing the need for electrolyte-rich hydration amidst soaring temperatures.

He explained that the body loses essential minerals like potassium and sodium through sweat, which are crucial for proper bodily functions. “Merely consuming water cannot rectify this electrolyte imbalance. It’s imperative to regularly replenish electrolytes with drinks like ORS,” he emphasized.

For Vipin Singh, a Swiggy delivery partner, the heatwave poses not only physical but also financial risks, with interruptions to work potentially impacting his livelihood. Despite these challenges, he perseveres — prioritizing hydration amidst dwindling appetite and heat-induced fatigue.

“I was delivering an order in Malviya Nagar a few days ago when I nearly lost control of my bike due to dizziness. It could have resulted in an accident,” said Singh, highlighting the dilemma faced by gig workers.

He expressed that he cannot afford to halt deliveries as it might adversely affect his rating on the app, leading to fewer orders and ultimately reducing his earnings.

survey by the People’s Association in Grassroots Action and Movements and the Indian Federation of App-based Transport Worker reveals the systemic exploitation faced by delivery personnel, characterized by overwork, underpayment and heightened anxiety.

Rakesh Kumar Yadav’s struggle with breathing issues highlights the dire consequences of prolonged exposure to extreme heat. “When I am out making deliveries, I struggle to catch my breath. It has become a daily struggle,” he said, mentioning that he consistently wears full-sleeved clothing and a helmet to shield himself from direct sunlight.

“Even though breaks are technically within our control, taking one would mean a loss in earnings,” he added.

Compounding their woes is the absence of health insurance coverage, leaving gig workers vulnerable to mounting medical expenses.

Aman, a Zomato worker who chooses to use only his first name, narrates his recent battle with illness, underscoring the precarious balance between health and livelihood faced by gig workers.

“The heat brings a lot of challenges. When the hot winds blow, it often leads to sunstroke. I have fallen ill multiple times. Just eight days ago, I had a high fever,” he shared.

Delivery executives operate on a commission basis, earning for each order they complete. As a result, even a brief break or a day off can have a substantial impact on their income.

Aman experienced a complete loss of earnings for 2-3 days when he fell ill. “Not only did I fail to earn, but I also incurred expenses,” he lamented.

In a bid to mitigate the risks of heat-related illnesses, delivery partners like Sachin Kumar opt for strategic breaks during peak hours, prioritizing self-care amidst the relentless demands of their work.

“I take a break and rest in the afternoon when the temperature peaks, and then I resume my duties after 5 pm,” explained Kumar, who has been with Zepto for two years.

Kumar began his journey as a delivery boy at the age of 18, earning a modest sum of Rs 300-700 per day. Stressing the importance of taking breaks, he explained, “I have to pause in the afternoon because it becomes unbearable for me to work during that time. If I don’t take breaks, I start feeling weak.”

For him and countless others, the heatwave presents not only a physical challenge but also a poignant reminder of the systemic inequities plaguing Delhi’s gig economy. As they navigate the perils of extreme weather, their resilience serves as a stark testament to their unwavering commitment amidst adversity.

 

Md Kaifee Alam and Anushka Kogta are freelance journalists and Master’s students of Convergent Journalism at AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia.