Any conversation about tech today would be incomplete without talking about the thousands of men and women who are the backbone of most tech unicorns — the gig workers.
About a decade ago, the introduction of gig work ushered in an enormous promise of financial freedom and job flexibility for blue-collared workers in the global south.
The rise of app-based companies like Zomato in India, Careem in Pakistan, and Pathao in Bangladesh meant that a privileged few could hail — food, home cleaning, groceries, manicures, and more — from the comfort of their homes. Those delivering these services were happy to partake in this new consumer culture, before the absurd economics of VC-fueled growth caught up.
Talk to any delivery worker about their work today, and their answers will leave you little room to feel optimistic about what’s touted as “the future of work.”
Earlier this year, Rest of World, in partnership with the research company Premise, surveyed more than 4,900 gig workers, across 15 countries, and found that this group in South Asia is uniquely disadvantaged.
The average cab driver or delivery rider in India and Pakistan is a male aged between 18 and 25 who is struggling to feed his family. Gig workers in India earn on an average $9.88 per day, while their peers in Pakistan earn about $6.64.
These workers are under such financial stress despite the fact that 34% of them in Pakistan and 24% in India have university-level education. In fact, nearly 13% of gig workers in Pakistan and 7% in India have a postgraduate education.
It is no wonder then that chief among the emotions they associate with are “worried” and “angry.” And it’s no surprise that most of them don’t see these jobs as a long-term career: Over 30% of gig workers in India and Pakistan plan to quit their current jobs in less than a month. That’s far higher than in most of the other countries we surveyed, with just 11% of gig workers in Mexico planning to leave their jobs within a month.
While speaking to entrepreneurs and investors in the tech industry, the rebuttal I’m often met with is: In struggling economies like India and South Asia where jobs are sparse, any job is good, right?
That may be true, but gig work needs reform nonetheless. As my colleague Peter Guest wrote last month, for gig workers, these jobs have been a gamble between terrible hours but reasonable pay and occasional freedom but huge insecurity. And for gig workers in South Asia, it’s a gamble that they’re likely to lose.