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Heat Effect On The Less Privileged Who No One Reports

| Updated: June 22, 2024 12:26

With temperature consistently hovering around 45 degrees in Delhi-NCR region, the life of platform-based gig workers is a living example of how the climate crisis has a disproportionate impact on those from lower income groups and how the country’s poorest are the worst hit as temperatures rise, with their jobs, wages and health harmed.

While reports suggest that workers in more traditional industries, such as those employed at brick kilns, are at an even greater risk, delivery workers of companies like Zomato-owned Blinkit, Swiggy Instamart and Zepto too are among the most vulnerable sections.

In a rush to make a livable wage, thousands of such workers spend hours under the blazing sun — both while waiting for orders and then delivering them — with very little institutional support from their companies. Workers say they often wait for 10-15 minutes in the open between orders, something they did even when the heatwave was at its peak.

Many of them had to take a break from work after they fell sick due to the heat. Though the rest faced similar problems, they could not afford to take a leave.

“In the past two months, not a day has gone by when I have not had a debilitating headache at work. I think it is because of the sun. But I can’t take a break,” said Anthony, a delivery boy for Swiggy Instamart.

Lack of empathy from their supervisors only makes matters worse. “I fell sick due to the severe heat and could not work for eight days. My team leader did not check on me once, not even to ask why I was absent, let alone to enquire if I was doing well,” said Nikhil Singh, a delivery worker with Zomato.

These workers are among the thousands of those at Zomato and other such platforms who deliver orders on bicycles. Zomato proudly mentions in its environment, sustainability and governance (ESG) report that around a quarter of its total 647 million deliveries last year were done by workers on bicycles.

With companies setting lofty standards to meet sustainability goals, gig workers are at twice the risk — they can only make a livable income if they brave the climate crisis, which puts them in harm’s way, leaving them vulnerable to the long-term impact of exposure to the sun.

For Zomato, almost all of its carbon footprint comes from its last-mile delivery service, with the company positioning deliveries made by workers on electric bikes and bicycles as part of its “climate conscious deliveries”. Zomato says 20 per cent of its total orders in 2022-2023 were delivered by workers on bicycles. The company says it will achieve net zero emissions across its food ordering and delivery value chain by 2030.

The irony is for Zomato’s goals, the poor gig worker will need to burn himself in the heat by delivering orders on his bicycle, so that the company meets its objectives and earns praise.

Zomato has reportedly procured refreshments, juices and glucose to distribute among its delivery workers, and has introduced a new full-sleeve shirt for them. Blinkit too is “installing air coolers in the waiting areas of all stores to provide immediate relief from the heat”.

But at the end of the day, these are small measures to address a big problem. Such intermittent cooling off options don’t take the sting off the heat the delivery men have to bear, 10-12 hours daily.

Apart from little institutional support from their companies, food delivery workers say their other key touch point — the restaurants — can be quite discriminatory towards them. Many restaurants have different entries and exits for delivery workers and customers. In many cases, they cannot even use their washrooms.

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