Workers' rights in a gig economy: Learn from the UAE model

Workers rights in a gig economy: Learn from the UAE model

Those searching for a workable model should look no further than the UAE Labour Law.



By Vicky Kapur (From the Executive Editor's desk)

Published: Thu 12 Sep 2019, 8:22 PM

A historic bill passed by the California Senate means gig economy workers in the state will soon be legally treated as employees if they are integral to their company's operations instead of contract workers as they are currently classified. For the uninitiated, in a gig economy, companies hire temps, freelancers, and independent contractors instead of full-time workers to fulfil their short-term and interim requirements. To give you a local example, you may see college students manning the pavilions of digital retailers at the upcoming Gitex Shopper show in Dubai. It works well for both the parties - the students earn some real-life experience and pocket money while tech retailers benefit from the acumen and industry of young, digital natives without having to spare resources from their existing stores for a short duration.

Great. But what happens if such a requirement is permanent in nature? While it works well in the short-term, certain gig economy firms (Uber and Lyft are among the most-touted offenders but there are several others) have built their business models around such independent contractors. The workers (drivers in this case) are not on their rolls and work on a commission basis. Which means that the employer, in effect, is not compelled to meet the basic workers' rights obligations like minimum national wage, overtime, health insurance, etc. There are many such gig economy firms across several countries that have been profitable thanks to avoiding such overheads, but as is clear by the California Senate ruling, this has led to exploitation of workers.

Those searching for a workable model should look no further than the UAE Labour Law, which guards the workers' welfare and puts in checks and balances so that employers cannot exploit vulnerable workers. Every worker here needs to be on a registered contract, which then mandates health insurance and other worker benefits, something that is conspicuous by its absence for the gig economy worker. While certain commentators have, in the past, criticised such policies for being stringent and inflexible, it is clear now that it is exactly the need of the hour to ensure worker protection and to avoid their abuse.


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