Concert work is inevitable and indispensable. But social security for such workers is crucial
Concert work is inevitable and indispensable.  But social security for such workers is crucial

Concert work is inevitable and indispensable. But social security for such workers is crucial

The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to take up an PIL seeking social benefits for concert and platform workers. The case is likely to have a far-reaching effect on India’s labor market. It will also be followed closely globally as Indian concert workers face problems similar to those their counterparts face in rich countries. The Code on Social Security, 2020, for the first time gave a legal identity to the term gig-employee, described as a work arrangement outside the traditional employer-employee relationship. It said that concert workers were entitled to a social security fund.

Social security is the touchstone of the dissonance between concert workers and others. For example, many countries classified concert work as “essential” during the first wave of Covid-induced lockdowns. Yet they were often cut out of benefits that were extended to other frontline workers. In a 2021 report, the ILO examined around 12,000 concert workers globally. On the positive side, concert work expanded the opportunities for people who were otherwise excluded in traditional work areas. The downside is irregularity in work and lack of social protection. The current PIL has a global context that has been framed by three developments in economies with a higher standard of protection.

In 2020, California in a poll allowed platforms to classify concert workers as independent contractors, which meant they were kept out of mandatory benefits. The tide seems to have reversed in 2021. The UK Supreme Court ruled that Uber should treat its drivers as workers and not self-employed. And last week, the EU drafted a bill that presupposes that at least some of the bloc’s concert workers are employees and not contractors. It could potentially cover up to 10% of the 28 million workers. India already has a disturbingly large informal workforce. Gig workers should not swell in those ranks.

Almost 15 months after the Social Security Act was passed by Parliament, implementation has been delayed as the accompanying notices are not in place. PIL gives GoI and states an opportunity to realize the spirit of the law, which unequivocally says that concert workers need protection. The law accepts that governments must contribute to a social security fund, but also provides for an employer contribution. It is possible to formulate rules in a way that finds the balance between the flexibility of the concert economy and to get platforms to make a contribution to the fund. This phase requires careful legal preparation to close loopholes and ensure that workers have a cushion.


This piece appeared as an editorial statement in the print edition of The Times of India.


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