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Heat, humidity or hale: ‘Majboori’ makes gig workers brave the elements

Heat, humidity, hail or heavy rain, when the weather gets tough, theirs is the band that gets going, working harder and for longer hours than earlier. It’s a job that has been getting increasingly tough with extreme weather events becoming more commonplace and frequent.
Last Updated : 02 July 2024, 09:57 IST

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New Delhi: It was a perilous ride into summer that went from an unprecedented heat wave to high humidity and now the monsoon, all within days. And as many retreated indoors, it was left to gig workers to brave the elements as they delivered food and myriad essentials on their two-wheelers.

Heat, humidity, hail or heavy rain, when the weather gets tough, theirs is the band that gets going, working harder and for longer hours than earlier. It’s a job that has been getting increasingly tough with extreme weather events becoming more commonplace and frequent.

Weaving in and out of lanes as they whiz through traffic, Vimlesh Kumar is amongst the thousands of gig workers in Delhi-NCR. Waiting outside a bakery in Ghaziabad for the rain to stop one day last week, the 27-year-old said he has mixed emotions on such days - worried that he might get sick, glad it will pay him more.

For the likes of Vimlesh, it is about completing long shifts, delivering food on time and managing largely on their own, because “ye kaam to majboori hai, kaisa bhi mausam ho (this job is a compulsion, will have to do it no matter the weather)".

“Generally, we get Rs 15-35 on an order. But when it rains, we can get as much as Rs 55 per order. There is also the risk of falling sick, our phone getting ruined, or much worse if I have an accident. But I have to do it. There is no other option,” Vimlesh told PTI.

Vimlesh, who makes Rs 20,000-25,000 a month, has to work more than 12 hours a day, travelling anywhere between 100 to 200 kilometres on his motorcycle.

Krishna, a 34-year-old delivery partner with a logistics company, complained about no respite from the elements and unempathetic customers.

“People only want to know updates on their orders. They rarely care about the weather outside,” he said.

Krishna has worked with different companies over the last 10 years, including Amazon, Zomato, Swiggy and Flipkart, and said the situation is the same everywhere.

“We have to risk our lives in this job that pays barely enough to survive in this city. Smartphones, bikes and petrol… nothing is cheap these days and we have to pay from our pockets so we can work,” he added.

Before the monsoon hit the national capital last week Friday, when large parts of the Delhi and its suburbs went under water stalling everyday life, the city broke records of punishing heat during the days -- and nights. Roads emanated toxic fumes, the wind felt like a blast from a furnace, the skin burned and eyes strained to remain open.

Ashutosh Kumar, 24, said the unrelenting heat would often force him to seek shelter, not for himself but for his phone that would become “too hot” and stop responding.

For a delivery partner with a food aggregator platform, not being able to make calls, send texts and check the map is akin to losing the day’s earnings.

From that to unbearable levels of humidity, where the sweat factor can be a potential health hazard, and then the the rain, it has been a blur of bad weather days of Ashutosh, Krishna, Vimlesh and their ilk.

Temperatures in Delhi remained above 40 degrees Celsius for 36 straight days from May 12 on. Of these, the city saw 16 days when the mercury reached or surpassed 45 degrees. The heat index often made it feel warmer.

Another temperature phenomenon, which measures the heat's impact on people under high humidity is wet-bulb temperature. Humans sweat to bring down their body temperature. But when the humidity is high, the sweat doesn't evaporate and the body temperature doesn't come down, creating a condition that can possibly be fatal.

The national capital recorded a wet-bulb temperature of 29.7 degrees last week Monday, according to a report by Hindustan Times. The highest reading on this scale is 35 degrees Celsius.

The weather extremities this summer can, of course, impact any and all. But for those whose daily bread depends on their job, there aren’t many options.

Companies made some efforts to relieve their delivery partners of the heat to some extent by offering them refreshment, resting areas and medical help when required.

While food aggregator Swiggy said it put up nearly “900 recharge zones in high-demand areas”, Zomato set up “450 rest points across India”.

A Swiggy spokesperson told PTI that these zones “offer rest areas, refreshing beverages, mobile phone charging points, and restrooms accessible to all delivery partners across the industry”.

Zomato’s rest points offer similar services “to support the entire gig economy and delivery partners of various companies in between deliveries”.

The company’s other offering, Blinkit, has also extended support by stacking its stores with glucose and buttermilk as well as installing air coolers in the waiting areas. But does it really help? According to Rahul Yadav, a 26-year-old delivery partner with a food aggregator, shelters are few around the city and not always reachable from their location. “It simply means if I have to rest I will have to let go of my earnings. While health is important, so is the job. I cannot always find a rest point near me where I can go, have some refreshment and go back on the job,” Rahul said.

He added that most restaurants don’t allow delivery boys to enter their air conditioned establishments.

“We are asked to pick up the order from the back door, or a window that opens into the street,” he said.

Companies have also made emergency response systems a part of their respective support structure.

While Swiggy’s delivery partners have access to “a free, rapid-response ambulance service with an average response time of 11 minutes” that can be summoned using the SOS button in the app, Zomato also offers a “15-min ambulance and 24x7 SOS support” in over 530 cities for all delivery partners.

Urban Company, a home service aggregator, also said that it provides “comprehensive social protection benefits through insurance programs, access to credit and various other initiatives”.

“We voluntarily offer free life insurance cover worth Rs 600,000, disability cover worth Rs 600,000, accidental hospitalisation cover worth Rs 70,000, and accidental OPD treatment worth Rs 10,000, among other benefits,” Bhavya Sharma, director, Communications & ESG, told PTI.

“It is not that simple,” countered Mahesh Sharma, another rider with an ecommerce website who moonlights as a food delivery executive.

“The process itself is quite complex and the company I work with has an insurance system that is based on your quality and quantity of work. One week you may have all the benefits and the next none perhaps,” the 43-year-old said.

The first step, Mahesh declared, is to stay healthy. And if you can’t, it’s better to dig into your savings than rely on insurance programmes, he added.

Barely covered by the gig industry for their financial needs arising out of medical emergencies, the life of delivery executives is one full of troubles, some caused by circumstances, others by the unrelenting elements.

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Published 02 July 2024, 09:57 IST

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