NITI Aayog pitches for incentives to draw more women into gig economy

In an effort to increase women’s participation in the gig economy, NITI Aayog has proposed financial incentives such as tax breaks or start-up grants for companies whose workforce is a third of women and people with disabilities.

“Financial incentives such as tax breaks or start-up grants can be offered to companies that provide livelihood opportunities where women make up a large part (say, 30%) of their workers. Likewise, a platform with high access or a high degree of participation of people with high Disability may also be rewarded with financial incentives,” NITI Aayog said in a report titled “India’s Booming Economy and Platform.”

Based on a survey conducted in urban centers in India, the report also stated that women are more likely to take up platform jobs after education and marriage.

The report also said that the participation of women in the labor force in India has remained low, swinging between 16 per cent to 23 per cent in the past few years. Similarly, PWD, who make up 2.11 to 10 per cent of India’s population, have a labor force participation rate of 36 per cent. “Structural barriers such as access to education and skills shortages have hampered the participation of the two demographic groups in the country’s workforce,” the report said.

However, according to the report, platform companies offer flexibility and choice of employment to all workers in general, and women in particular, enabling them to invest their idle assets whenever and wherever they want – a feature missing in traditional employment sectors – making it an attractive opportunity for women and people with disabilities.

The report estimates that more than 7.5 million workers took part in the temporary jobs economy in 2020-2021. This could rise to 23.5 million workers in the next eight years, making up 4.1 per cent of India’s total livelihoods. According to the report, about 47 percent of temporary jobs are currently in middle-skilled jobs, about 22 percent in high-skill jobs, and about 31 percent in low-skill jobs. Gig workers can be broadly categorized into platform workers and off-platform workers. Platform workers are those whose work is based on online software applications or digital platforms while casual platform workers are generally casual wage workers, working part-time or full-time. While platform companies have created avenues of hiring, they are often marred by low wages, unequal gender participation, and a lack of upscaling potential within the organization.

Aside from motivational platforms focused on hiring women workers, the report also recommended that companies have a higher proportion of female managers and supervisors in the organization to ensure that communication with workers does not perpetuate gender stereotypes. “To encourage more women, platforms may develop better work infrastructure and design, promote skills development, asset ownership, access to digital skills and technology, and implement gender and accessibility education programs for workers and their families,” Sakshi Khurana, consultant at Niti Aayog Skills Development, Employment and Employment vertical, and part of the research team for the report, he told The Indian Express.

To encourage increased and equal participation in the temporary jobs economy, the report said, Social Security benefits extend to workers in partnership mode, as envisaged by the Social Security Act, 2020 — as such, the report said, companies should consider providing income support to workers because they would be “A critical step in providing a minimum guaranteed income and social security from loss of income in the wake of uncertainty or irregularity in employment.” It also mentioned that companies offer paid sick leave to their workers regardless of insurance coverage.

Temporary job workers are usually employed by companies on a contractual basis and are not considered their employees. As a result, they do not receive some of the benefits that a permanent employee of the company would receive—that is, they often do not receive benefits such as paid sick and casual leave, travel and housing allowances, and provident fund savings, among other things.

The report also recommended that companies adopt policies that offer old-age or retirement plans and benefits and other insurance coverage for emergencies such as work-related injury that could lead to job and income loss. “Such plans and policies may be uniquely designed by a company, in partnership with insurance companies, or they may be designed and offered in cooperation with the government, as envisaged under the Social Security Act, 2020.” She said the social security cover from the foundation fund could also help temporary workers in case of emergency.

Niti Aayog added that access to institutional credit can be enhanced with financial products specifically designed for platform workers and those interested in creating their own platforms. “Venture capital financing, grants and loans from banks and other funding agencies should be made available to business platforms of all sizes in the pre-revenue and early-earnings phases,” she said. Fintech companies can be leveraged to offer cash flow-based loans to workers in exchange for collateral-based loans, thus meeting the needs of those new to credit. “Special focus may be placed on access to official credit for women and people with disabilities,” she added.

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