Blinkit Strike Shows Indian E-Commerce Needs A Heart

The recent strike at Blinkit, India’s 10-minute delivery platform, reflects a deeper malaise within the hyper-competitive e-commerce market in the country. As startups vie for market share and attempt to outpace each other, they often lose sight of the need to take care of their delivery partners, the very backbone of their success.

The High Price of Market Share Wars

In the race to outperform one another, Indian e-commerce companies are operating on a model fueled by steroids. The breakneck speed at which these companies are expanding often comes at the cost of treating their workers with empathy and equity. The Blinkit strike is a glaring example of how rapid growth and aggressive competition can result in disgruntled workers, putting businesses at risk.

Per recent reports, the delivery partners of Blinkit have gone on strike, demanding better pay, working conditions, and clarity on their incentives. This crisis is a stark reminder that while chasing market dominance, companies must not lose sight of the well-being of their workforce.

A Tipping Point for Delivery Partners

Delivery partners have been the unsung heroes during the pandemic, risking their lives to ensure essential supplies reach millions of households. However, their grievances often go unheard. The Blinkit strike signifies a tipping point, as the delivery partners unite to make their voices heard and demand better treatment.

E-commerce companies must recognize that their delivery partners are not mere cogs in the wheel but an integral part of the ecosystem. Ensuring fair wages, safe working conditions, and transparency in incentives are not luxuries but essential ingredients for a healthy and sustainable work environment.

Global Examples: Strikes Reshaping Worker Welfare

Strikes and protests by workers in the gig economy are not unique to India. In recent years, we have witnessed similar incidents across the globe, particularly in the US. For example, in 2018, Amazon warehouse workers in Europe went on strike during the busiest shopping day, demanding better pay and working conditions. The strike brought attention to the plight of workers and led to a renewed focus on their welfare.

Similarly, in 2020, Instacart workers in the US staged a nationwide strike demanding hazard pay and protective gear amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. The pressure eventually led the company to provide additional benefits, such as paid sick leave and bonuses for frontline workers.

Indian E-commerce: A History of Protests and Unrest

India has witnessed its share of worker protests and strikes in the e-commerce and gig economy sectors. In 2020, Swiggy’s delivery partners staged protests in Chennai, demanding better pay and transparent incentive policies. Zomato, another food delivery giant, faced delivery partner strikes in 2019 over reduced payouts.

The ride-hailing industry in India, represented by companies like Ola and Uber, has experienced similar unrest. Protests and strikes have been organised by drivers on multiple occasions, demanding better pay, incentives, and working conditions.

Towards a More Empathetic E-commerce Future

The Blinkit strike must serve as a wake-up call for the entire e-commerce industry in India. It’s high time companies took a hard look at their practices and put in place measures that ensure the welfare of their workers. The pursuit of growth must not come at the expense of the very people who make it possible.

To create a more sustainable and empathetic e-commerce future, companies must invest in their workforce and prioritise their needs. Only then can they foster an environment of trust and loyalty, which is essential for long-term success.

The Indian e-commerce market has immense potential, but it must learn from the mistakes of the past and global examples. The strike at Blinkit provides an opportunity for companies and stakeholders to come together and chart a new course that puts empathy and equity at the heart of its growth strategy.

India’s gig economy could serve 90 million jobs and over 1 per cent of the GDP

India’s gig economy has witnessed tremendous growth in recent years, driven by the rapid expansion of technology platforms and increased demand for flexible work opportunities. According to a study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, the Indian gig economy is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17% and reach a market value of $455 billion by 2023. This growth has created millions of jobs in various sectors, including ride-hailing, food delivery, and e-commerce logistics.

Despite the rapid expansion and promising prospects, India’s gig economy faces numerous challenges. The most pressing issues for gig workers include the following:

– Lack of job security

– Absence of social security benefits

– Inadequate legal protection

Gig workers often work long hours for low pay without access to benefits such as paid leave, health insurance, or a pension. The COVID-19 pandemic further exacerbated these concerns, as gig workers were among the hardest hit by job losses and income uncertainty.

In response to these challenges, India’s government and judiciary have taken steps to address the concerns of gig workers. For example, in September 2020, parliament passed the Code on Social Security, which seeks to extend social security benefits to gig and platform workers, including life and disability insurance, health and maternity benefits, and old-age protection. However, implementing these measures remains a critical challenge, with many workers still needing help to access the promised benefits.

As India’s gig economy continues to grow, it is essential to strike a balance between fostering innovation and ensuring the well-being of its workforce. Therefore, policymakers, businesses, and workers must unite to create a more equitable and sustainable gig economy that benefits all stakeholders.

Disrupting the Disruptors: The Rise of Alternative Solutions

The dissatisfaction and unrest among workers have spurred innovative solutions that aim to eliminate the need for intermediaries or platforms. These alternatives are gaining traction and challenging the established models by addressing the pain points of service providers and customers.

One such example is NammaAuto, a Bengaluru-based autorickshaw ride-hailing app. By removing the commission fee charged by platforms like Ola and Uber, NammaAuto ensures drivers retain a larger share of their earnings. Consequently, drivers are happier and more satisfied with their income, while riders benefit from a convenient and reliable service.

Similarly, protocols such as BECKN (Bharat Ecosystem for Commerce & Knowledge Networking) and ONDC (Open Network for Digital Commerce) are set to gain momentum as they enable service providers and customers to explore a world beyond traditional platforms. These open protocols facilitate seamless interactions between businesses and consumers, bypassing the need for centralised platforms and their associated costs.

The rise of such alternatives highlights the growing awareness and desire for change among stakeholders in the e-commerce and gig economy. Moreover, by empowering service providers and customers to transact directly, these solutions can create a more equitable and sustainable ecosystem.

The ongoing issues faced by workers in the Indian e-commerce sector are a stark reminder of the need for empathy and equity in pursuing growth. The rise of alternative solutions like NammaAuto, BECKN, and ONDC indicates a shift towards a more balanced and inclusive ecosystem. It’s time for the industry to take note and recalibrate its priorities, ensuring that the welfare of its workers is at the heart of its growth strategy.

(Pankaj Mishra has been a journalist for over two decades and is the co-founder of FactorDaily.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.


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