Instant delivery: the victim, the culprit and the call to action

“He wanted to support me financially, and now he has left us”

These were the tear-soaked words of the aging father of Karan Raju, who lost his life in a hit-and-run accident on Monday, the 16th of May. Karan had dived into the Zepto delivery space only recently, to keep his family financially afloat, especially at a time when his sister’s wedding was coming up. Karan was completing a delivery close to his own home and following all traffic protocols when an unidentified vehicle smashed into his bike. He was rushed to Safdarjung hospital but eventually succumbed to his critical injuries. He was 19 years old.

 

Karan’s tragic story comes at a time when ‘instant delivery’ has become a buzzword in the delivery space. While companies like Zepto have their very roots in this flawed concept, Zomato fell into deep public trouble when it announced it was going to follow suit.

The logic is bluntly simple. A 10-minute or an unreasonably short delivery window is a bane masked in the image of speed. It throws the life of delivery agents into immeasurable risk and threatens the quality of goods being delivered. It’s a loss-loss game for all, except the companies who’ll fight tooth and nail for publicity and profits.

The gig economy is one that involves temporary, freelancing, and flexible jobs and has caught steam with the arrival of apps such as Ola and Zomato. Let us first understand how the wheels of this Gig economy turn. There are certainly more skeletons in the closet adding to the doom of instant delivery.

THE GIG ECONOMY: DIGGING AND BURYING DREAMS

Without the astronomical gig workforce, the booming online services industry will fall apart like a pack of cards. 15 million gig workers encompass about 3% of the total Indian workforce and the number is soaring by the day. However, while the numerical graph is bashing records, the graph of happiness is reaching rock bottom.

The gig workers, called delivery agents by food delivery apps like Zomato and travel partners by transport giants like Ola, are partners only by namesake. They are not bound by any employment contract and are thus cut out from the formal sector economy and all the incentives it puts to the table. To add insult to injury, they have to bear inhumane working hours and a substandard work environment.

DISSECTING THE ISSUES

While drivers alleged spending 16-20 hours a day in their car, food delivery agents slogged 7 days a week to see their savings vanish and their stipends slashed in the pandemic. 95.3% of those surveyed had no social security protection to speak of. Is this the face of ‘New India’?

In the pandemic itself, about 90% saw their earnings decline. Many have shed light on the non-existent or rarely functional lines of communication with their employer. The gig economy is slowly hammering its own backbone.

One of the victims was Karan, in the sea of thousands more who are trapped by the bait of high incomes which these companies churn out by burning cash on marketing. Almost always, the bubble bursts as these companies stealthily reduce the incentives which form the majority of the workers’ income. Hollow promises often buy the voices of the sufferers.

A common sight is many unsuspecting youngsters buying a vehicle on loan for the purpose of driving or otherwise. Since they were unable to make even ends meet during the pandemic, they had to borrow intensively to pay the earlier loans too. Thus, caught in a debt trap, they had nothing to look up to but a dark future. With no dedicated law in place, millions in India today are hanging by a thread. Things need to change. Companies sucking profits off the well-being of workers will not be accepted. Period.

can a life be compensated?

Zepto promised a compensation of 10 Lakhs to Karan’s family, complemented by an insurance cover of 8 lakhs. Promises of ‘moral and emotional support’ have also been poured. But is this enough? Along with a hand to help, and a shoulder to cry on, we also need the heart to change for the better.

If the instant delivery gimmick of delivery companies costs any lives, where will the moral fiber go? Morality is not something that bursts when the need be. Morality is something that is inherent in organizations. And, the last time we checked, it was missing from these revenue engines feeding customers super-fast food and feeding their own employees sugar-coated lies.

call to action: I CAN WAIT!

Change, they say is the only constant. Change begins with the realization that someone in this entire story is at fault. It could be the ailing legal system or the lax companies, or even the customers. Karan’s life was lost to fate, but no more lives should be lost to apathy and money-driven services.

Risk on the road not only alienates the drivers but can also land the companies in legal pitfalls. Moreover, convenience and human life are not a trade-off, even in the most fundamental business metrics says, Akassh in our new video published on our youtube channel is worth thinking about isn’t it?

The companies need to get back to the drawing board and interweave customer satisfaction with employees’ well-being. Unless a concrete and impenetrable system is rolled out, such policies should be kept where they belong: to the imagination. A business not built on ethics is bound to collapse.

Peepoye is laying the first step in the direction of calling out such unethical initiatives. You can be our change agent too! Join the link and make a statement. The world is listening! A video, a retweet, and the hashtag #ICanWait can weave magic. Spread the word. Come one, come all!

Join the campaign here.

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