Gig workers in Asia are turning to the government and the courts to improve their conditions as numbers swell

Emboldened by the victories of delivery riders from New York to the Netherlands, gig workers in Asia are increasing pressure for better conditions from app-based businesses that have thrived during the pandemic.

The platforms, like their counterparts in the United States or Europe, have taken advantage of lax labour protections to demand long hours in exchange for low wages and few benefits like sick pay or health cover, rights advocates say.

“The platforms have been able to fudge it,” said Balaji Parthasarathy, principal investigator at FairWork India, which rates gig economy companies.

“This is where regulation can help – it will define when they can be treated as employees and when as partners, and what benefits they should receive,” he said.

As scrutiny of app-based businesses increases across the region – partly due to workers’ protests – authorities are starting to call for tighter legal protections.

Chinese regulators in July ordered online platforms to ensure delivery riders earn above the minimum wage and have access to insurance coverage, while Singapore’s government is looking into increasing protections for such workers.