Aapti's the Driver Advisory Council (DAC) represents a new framework for engagement between gig workers and platforms in the ride hail space - a first of its kind initiative in India. The larger aim of this innovation is to create a mechanism for platform governance that focuses on gig workers rights, enabling participatory action and reflexive praxis. To this end, we’ve engaged with public bodies such as India’s NITI Aayog to socialise the DAC and its novel approach to platform work.
The pandemic has increased reliance on digital mediation, and ride-hail platforms have been critical not just in offering safe mobility options for all, including healthcare workers. The driving force were gig workers, specifically driver partners, who rose to the occasion enabling the normalcy in lives and livelihoods. Recognising the significance of drivers as the backbone of the industry, Aapti has instituted the 35-member Uber India Driver Advisory Council (DAC) - a unique, first-of-its kind effort in India. The creation of the council is aimed at promoting involvement of drivers in platform governance, through drivers’ participation in an independent third-party mediated forum.
For countries in the Global South plagued by unemployment and under-employment, platform-mediated work represent a compelling vehicle for employment - with over 500,000 driver partners are currently enrolled on the Uber platform; Aapti is also cognisant of the concerns around worker well-being in this rapidly evolving space. The DAC is a means for driver partners to connect with Uber, and importantly, with peers from across 6 participating cities in India. To ensure independence from Uber, Aapti established the first DAC, alongside formulating practices and principles for governance of the Council. In establishing the DAC, Aapti reviewed ~4000 applications from driver partners in 6 cities ( Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi-NCR, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Mumbai). The first DAC was held in person in Gurgaon in March, 2022, and driver earnings and support were the key themes for discussion. Following each Council meeting, Aapti establishes a framework for action with Uber to ensure fulfilment of key issues identified during each session. As a result, changes to the payment cycle, geolocation optimisation and upfront fare and destination were implemented following the first DAC session. The second DAC session was held in two parts in July - one meeting in Gurgaon with the Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai members in attendance and another in Bangalore for members from within the city as well as Hyderabad and Chennai. Key themes that were examined during this process include social security of drivers, application level changes to Uber app, grievance redressal and support, among others.
Going forward, Aapti will anchor the DAC sessions for the next year and draw out actionable insights from discussions to implement planned changes to the Uber platform. The hope is to continue the independently-managed DAC over years, with a rotating membership of driver partners. Besides implementing immediate changes that have an impact on selected themes, we believe efforts such as the DAC have far-ranging societal benefits as well. Participative dialogue can help generate a body of evidence on issues faced by driver partners, to enable evidence-based, incremental revisions to regulations, as well as Uber policy and product. Empowerment of partner voices is intrinsic to enhancing quality of work and to this end, the DAC is innovative approach to platform governance in which Uber can work towards understanding partner experiences, manage attrition through proactive response, and engage with policy on worker well-being with evidence and experience. In fact, the DAC also marks a significant milestone for India’s mobility sector, broadening the scope for truly participatory decision-making in the platform economy.
Given the DAC's value as a powerful precedent, this model of engagement with gig workers is scalable and poised for implementation across the ecosystem of platform that have come to constitute the gig economy. The DAC and similar models represent an important conduit in bridging the gap between the lived experience of gig workers and forthcoming regulations for the gig economy. To this end, regulators are growing alive to alternative models for platform governance and promotion of worker welfare, championing models such as DAC as plausible pathways for governance of the platforms of tomorrow. Such a move is particularly salient given the regulatory obfuscation and vacuum which have come to define policymaking for the platform gig economy. Specifically, regulators in India - such as the Competition Commission - have already instructed platforms to formulate self-regulation guidelines on pricing and transparency.
Elsewhere, academics have championed a combination of self-regulation and government regulation to better serve workers' interests in the platform economy. Coalition-based formulations of self-governance which involves bringing together firms operating in the same industry (in this case, ride-hail and transport on demand platforms) are another emerging medium for regulation - with mechanisms such as the DAC representing an industry-wide standard for platform governance. The DAC heralds the promise of a better future for drivers, treasuring worker well-being as the guiding imperative of all the activities undertaken by firms.
What Makes Your Project Innovative?
The DAC is innovative inasmuch as it represents a novel mode of engagement between platforms, gig workers and public agencies. More significantly, its innovative potential can produce gains at three levels:
- Business: The DAC helps enable increase in driver satisfaction leading to reduced attrition, provide avenues for channelling voice reducing risks of volatile actions and surface an opportunity to gather feedback and response
- Policy: Demonstrate self-governance through practice, intervene effectively in upcoming/planned policy changes with a body of evidence, frame the narrative on engaging with partners with learnings from experiences
- Societal: DAC supports conversations in safe environments for driver partner and rider communities alike, while enabling discussions on critical issues such as discrimination, health and safety
Fundamentally, the DAC is a focal point of contact between the worker community and Uber/platforms for channelisation of worker voices.
What is the current status of your innovation?
As of this date of submission in Oct 2022, two DAC meetings have been convened and a third is scheduled for November 2022. The Council meetings are structured in a manner that allows for members to meet once every quarter in-person, with virtual calls serving as media to socialise interim updates from the DAC process.
The first DAC was held in Gurgaon, India in March, 2022, and driver earnings and support were the key themes for discussion. Following each council meeting, Aapti establishes a framework for action with Uber to ensure fulfilment of key issues identified during each session. As a result, changes to the payment cycle, geolocation optimisation and upfront fare display were implemented following the first DAC session. The second DAC session was held in July. Key themes that were examined during this process include social security of drivers, application level changes to Uber app, grievance redressal and support, among others.
Collaborations & Partnerships
The model of engagement proposed by the DAC was primarily developed by Aapti, with inputs from a community of scholars and practitioners studying platform-mediated gig work. Additionally, the DAC has benefited greatly from the experiences of teams running similar mechanisms within Lyft USA, Uber - Australia, Portland TNC, among others. While these efforts are largely concentrated in the private sector, they are born of a regulatory impetus to promote proactive self-governance by platforms.
Users, Stakeholders & Beneficiaries
Core stakeholders include: gig workers (drivers) who are the backbone of the platform economy; platforms that play the role of critical intermediaries in the ride-hail space; government which can leverage new models for platform governance like the DAC. Beneficiaries include:
- Gig workers - can participate and better inform the conditions of their work;
- Platforms - stand to gain trust from their body of workers and govt. for upholding workers' interests;
- Governments - promote self-regulation.
Results, Outcomes & Impacts
Since the DAC was first launched in March 2022, 13 key issues have been resolved as result of discussions with DAC members. A few of these issues include: compensation for long pick-up, fare increases, daily payments (instead of weekly), freedom to switch between different types of service offerings, among others.
The results were evaluated through a framework for assessment developed internally by Aapti. This framework surfaces a rubric for Uber teams to prioritise the many issues highlighted during DAC meetings, furnishing appropriate timelines as well as explanations for their actions (whether an issue is resolved or not, and why).
Notably, the DAC has also sparked conversations about gig workers' welfare to the extent that it has generated momentum for notification of Indian Government's proposed Code on Social Security. The CoSS introduces a co-pay system to cover health and other benefits for workers.
Challenges and Failures
Over the course of running the DAC this past year, Aapti has recognised certain challenges:
- The momentum for resolving key issues is variable, given that platforms are only now beginning to understand the problems at hand through conversations with drivers; additionally platforms contend with global supply chain challenges that disrupt timelines to implement planned changes to their applications
- Managing DAC members'/workers' expectations, in the context of fractured trust relationships is a slow, deliberative exercise that needs much reassurance from the part of Aapti which is the neutral, autonomous third party mediating the DAC arrangement
- Interest from government agencies to generate support for worker welfare initiatives is still nascent; consequently, demands a deeper engagement with the state of affairs in the platform economy and facilitate mediated conversations with platforms as well as gig workers
Conditions for Success
In order to ensure the continued success of mechanisms such as the DAC, it is necessary to ensure support of the following nature:
- Policy recognition and endorsement: governments must overcome the current regulatory vacuum in the platform economy space to actively advocate for better worker welfare initiatives with greater participation from platforms and workers themselves
- Proactive enterprise leadership: exercising foresight on the part of leaders within platform firms is an important element of success in this context and empowered leaders can lend greater legitimacy to efforts like the DAC, heralding an era of responsible corporate governance
- Regulatory sandbox: Given the pronounced regulatory obfuscation around governance of gig work, it becomes imperative to contemplate and experiment with alternative approaches. Models like the DAC or coalition-based formulations that leverage ecosystem-level consensus on core issues affecting their industry can be explored
The low-investment, high effectiveness attribute of the DAC model of engagement between platforms and its workers' is inherently poised for scaling and replication across a variety of sectors (beyond ride-hail) and jurisdictions. This is because models, like DAC, are anchored by civil society organisations, such as Aapti, that impart much needed autonomy to ensure an accountable framework of engagement between platforms and the larger community of gig workers.
More significantly, DAC and similar institutions focalise workers' voices and welfare in a milieu where their interests are seldom directly articulated/represented by the workers themselves. The DAC helps come paternalistic instincts to impose unilateral bans on platform-mediated work by foregrounding workers' experience as the guiding imperative for policy action.
Lastly, the model is sector-agnostic - any platform employing a gig workforce and contemplating responsible business practices can replicate the DAC mechanism.
While Aapti has led the DAC process for the past year, few emerging insights arise that merit exploration. For one, while the DAC helps identify gaps and opportunities for intervention through mediated discussions with workers, we continue to navigate the choppy waters that is access and impact - whether workers are truly empowered to participate in a forum such as the DAC.
Second, the DAC in anchored within Uber India's policy and business teams that privilege inputs from gig workers to guide their company decisions. While this is proactive and commendable, it is also voluntary and dependent on the interests of individual firms to undertake this model of engagement with workers'. Other firms must be encouraged to adopt similar mechanisms in their corporate governance strategies to ensure a level playing field for workers as well as platforms.
Third, policy support is crucial and process innovations such as DAC should find mention in future legislative framing for the gig economy.
- Implementation - making the innovation happen
- Evaluation - understanding whether the innovative initiative has delivered what was needed
- Diffusing Lessons - using what was learnt to inform other projects and understanding how the innovation can be applied in other ways
2 January 2023