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Food Apps India’s Growing Gig-Economy, Says Delivery Men

"We work 12 hours straight in soaring heat and heavy rains. Sometimes I don't even have time to eat," he added.

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Delivery man Ujjwal Singhal working with the food delivery app Swiggy carries an order to a customer in New Delhi, India, Feb. 6, 2019. (Representational image). VOA

Suraj Nachre works long hours and regularly misses meals but he treasures his job as a driver for a food delivery startup — working in a booming industry that highlights India’s expanding apps-based gig-economy.

The 26-year-old is one of hundreds of thousands of young Indians who, armed with their smartphones and motorcycles, courier dinners to offices and homes ordered at the swipe of a finger.

A surge in the popularity of food-ordering apps like Uber Eats and Swiggy provides a welcome source of income for many as India’s unemployment rate sits at a reported 45-year high.

But they also shine a spotlight on the prevalence of short-term contracts in the economy, raising questions about workers’ rights and conditions and the long-term viability of the jobs.

“(These delivery workers) are treated as independent contractors so labor laws governing employees are not applicable and they lack job security,” Gautam Ghosh, a human resources consultant, told AFP.

“While jobs created by food delivery apps are crucial, they may not exist in 10 years so for the majority of youngsters they are a stopgap arrangement,” he added.

India’s army of food delivery drivers, mostly men but some women too, became a talking point on social media late last year when a rider for the Zomato platform was filmed sampling a customer’s order.

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A surge in the popularity of food-ordering apps like Uber Eats and Swiggy provides a welcome source of income for many as India’s unemployment rate sits at a reported 45-year high. Pixabay

The video, apparently shot on a mobile phone, showed the man taking bites from several food parcels before wrapping them again. It sparked anger online and he was promptly sacked.

Rushing around

Many internet users rallied to his defense, however. They insisted that the two-minute clip showed he was hungry and desperate, and said Zomato had acted harshly in dismissing him.

“It is a challenging job,” said Nachre, expressing sympathy for the unnamed delivery man who was working in the southern city of Madurai before being fired.

“We work 12 hours straight in soaring heat and heavy rains. Sometimes I don’t even have time to eat,” he added.

Nachre drives for the Scootsy platform. He leaves home at 9:00 am and does not return until after 1:00 am. Navigating Mumbai’s abysmal traffic makes work stressful, he says.

“We’re always in a rush to deliver and customers keep calling us. We know we have to be on our toes all the time or customers might complain and we may lose our jobs,” Nachre told AFP.

India’s food delivery apps, backed by major international investment, are offering new avenues of employment for Indian youngsters who lack higher education but possess a driving license.

Their importance to the likes of Nachre was highlighted recently when a leaked government report said India’s unemployment rate was 6.1 percent in 2017-18, the highest since the 1970s.

“This job is lucrative,” said Nachre, who has no post-school qualifications and earns a minimum of 18,000 rupees ($253) a month.

In his previous job running errands at an office he made only 8,000 rupees.

The app-based food delivery industry is worth an estimated $7 billion to Asia’s third-largest economy, according to market research firm Statista, and is expanding rapidly.

 

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Delivery men working with the food delivery apps Uber Eats and Swiggy wait to pick up an order outside a restaurant in Mumbai, India, Feb. 6, 2019. VOA

Swiggy announced at the end of last year that it had received $1 billion in funding from foreign backers including South Africa’s Naspers and China’s Tencent.

Foreign investment

That put the valuation of the five-year-old company, headquartered in Bangalore, at more than $3 billion.

Zomato, Swiggy’s nearest challenger for market dominance, is being aggressively backed by Alibaba’s Ant Financial. The Chinese giant recently pumped in $210 million, valuing the Delhi-based startup at $2 billion.

The food delivery platforms are soaring as India’s growing middle classes take advantage of better smartphone connectivity and cheap data plans that are fueling a gig economy centered on technology.

Informal, casual labor has long been the bedrock of India’s economy but now Indians can access a host of services on their phones from hiring a rickshaw to booking a plumber or yoga teacher.

FlexingIt, a global consulting agency, estimates the country’s gig economy has the potential to grow up to $30 billion by 2025.

Analysts say it is time the government started to regulate the sector.

“There is no regulator overlooking this sector. Working conditions definitely need to get better for these workers,” Anurag Mahur, a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers told AFP.

ALSO READ: Whatsapp Security Bug Allows iPhone Users Bypass Security Controls

Thirty-year-old Tushar Khandagale, who delivers for Zomato, is the sole breadwinner in his family.

With millions of youngsters entering India’s workforce every year and looking for a job, Khandagale would relish a long-term contract that offered him some security.

“I hope to stay in this job. It pays well and my family depend on me,” he said. (VOA)

Next Story

Uber Eats Eyeing Young Professionals in Smaller Towns to Increase Footprint in Hyper-Competitive Indian Market

Uber Eats is currently available in 38 cities

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Uber Eats' business grew by 50 per cent (month-on-month) in its first year of operations in India. Flickr

As the online food delivery market in India goes hyper-competitive, Uber Eats, which is yet to create a significant mark on the Indian palette, is now eyeing young professionals in metros and joint families in smaller towns to increase its footprint.

Amid reports that Swiggy is buying its India business and then stalled talks, Uber Eats that came to India in May 2017 is finally witnessing fast adoption of its services among millennials and joint families.

“We’re actually seeing a trend of multiple combinations of orders at once in India, which is not limited to just Friday nights or festivals but on a regular basis,” Raj Beri, Head of Uber Eats-Asia Pacific, told IANS.

Earlier this year, reports said the elderly population was behind the success of Uber Eats’ business in Japan. Beri said the platform’s growth in India is beyond age demographics and more towards collective adoption of digital food delivery services.

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The company is introducing several India-first features on its app like the veg-only recommendations and cash payments. Wikimedia Commons

Countries in the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region order more from Uber Eats than any other geography in the world, with 1.5 million unique cuisine choices available on the platform in the region.

While Beri refused to reveal the company’s market and revenue share in India, he stressed that the company’s share in the APAC region is significantly growing.

Uber Eats’ business grew by 50 per cent (month-on-month) in its first year of operations in India. According to Jason Droege, Global Head of Uber Eats, India was their fastest growing market in the world.

Uber Eats is currently available in 38 cities. Launched much later than its competitors like Swiggy, Zomato and Foodpanda, Uber Eats is facing some problems in properly establishing itself as a food delivery platform among foodies in the country. The company is introducing several India-first features on its app like the veg-only recommendations and cash payments.

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Delivery men working with the food delivery apps Uber Eats and Swiggy wait to pick up an order outside a restaurant in Mumbai, India, Feb. 6, 2019. VOA

“Content, storytelling and just being transparent with the background behind where your food is coming from is very important. It would enable communication between restaurateurs and customers,” said Nikki Neuburger, Global Head of Marketing, Uber Eats.

According to Uber Eats’ Senior Director and Product Manager Stephan Chau, the company is using advanced technologies like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to safeguard its customers’ data.

ALSO READ: Zomato to Launch a Service where People can Order Home-Cooked Food

“We don’t have reasons to really want to expose our users’ data outside of context. Our goal is to make sure that the users understand our steps and benefit from the transparency,” Chau said.

When asked if they were planning on implementing Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) in its app to enrich customers’ experiences, top executives said they might work on the idea in the future. (IANS)