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#1 | Anurag - From a contractor to a delivery executive
Life of a gig worker - research series
Have you ever wondered what life looks like from a different vantage point?
In recent years, startups have given rise to a new workforce segment known as gig economy workers. In bustling metropolitan cities like Bangalore, you can easily spot them from afar, clad in vibrant orange, purple, red, or black t-shirts. These individuals are responsible for delivering a wide range of goods, including groceries, meals, and various home services to our doorstep. Working as contractors for these startups, their compensation is predominantly tied to the number of orders they fulfil in a day. While the gig economy offers the allure of flexible working hours, the imposed earnings limit per order places tremendous pressure on these workers to meet their financial needs solely through these platforms. They navigate a constant cycle of optimization day and night to earn a livable income.
As a researcher, I have always been intrigued by gig workers' perspectives. I often wonder about the person who arrives on a bike to deliver my food—where do they eat? How do they spend their time between orders? How do they forecast their daily earnings? And how do they plan for unforeseen emergencies and contingencies in life? It remains a mystery.
A few months ago, I collaborated with a researcher to conduct interviews with gig economy workers to gain insight into their lives and financial behaviours. We are preparing to publish their stories, providing a firsthand account and offering a fresh perspective on their experiences.
(Note: To preserve the privacy and confidentiality of each individual, we took great care to mask their names and any other personally identifiable information. The interviews were conducted online in Hindi and translated into English. The transcript is minimally edited for a better reading experience)
Anurag, a 40-year-old native of Varanasi, has spent his entire life in the vibrant city where he still resides alongside his close-knit family, which includes his parents, wife, daughter, and two sisters. Anurag joyfully recounts the successful marriage of one of his sisters, and with hopeful anticipation, he expresses his intentions to arrange a suitable match for his other sister in the near future. Anurag's wife manages a small business of her own, thus contributing to the family’s income. Anurag has been working as a delivery executive with Swiggy for the past four years, prior to which he was working as a contractor.
Table of contents
Starting as a gig worker
How did you decide to join this field?
I saw food delivery advertised on TV and decided to try it out. I used Zomato and Swiggy to order meals, with nearby (neighbourhood) people delivering food to me. When I needed more information on how to join the field, I asked people I knew and then joined.
Why did you choose food delivery?
Working in the food delivery segment is preferable to courier deliveries, which involves carrying heavy weight. I also avoided driving cabs, as customers can be unpredictable; a good customer will be cooperative, while a difficult one may have issues with how I drive. Thus, food delivery provides a better alternative to such uncertainties.
Why did you opt for a job as a delivery executive instead of a traditional 9-5 job?
I'm too old to work at a (9-5) job, so I've been doing food delivery for the past 4 years. I'm 40 now, so when I started, I was 35. I didn't have any job experience to get hired; I only had business experience. I knew a job would pay me, at most, Rs. 10-12k. On the other hand, in food delivery, the more deliveries I made, the more I earned. This field demanded hard work, but it also provided a slightly higher income than traditional employment. These reasons led me to choose this particular field.
Why did you quit your previous job?
I used to take up government contracts, build roads and flats, and paint and repair them. In 2018, when I was busy with my wedding, one of my three business partners ran away with all the money we earned, posing a significant setback. Now, to get a contract requires a minimum of 1 crore rupees, and 50% of that money has to be liquid. We used to take projects worth up to 3-4 crores. I took some loans to get back on track, but it didn't help. I tracked my partner; he said he had spent the money and would return it slowly, but I recently learnt he passed away. My hope of getting my money back is now gone.
What were your initial days as a delivery executive look like?
When I initially chose this profession, it was difficult for me to accept that I, a former contractor, had transitioned into food delivery. Accepting this change was quite challenging. However, I realized that if I dwelled on these thoughts, my family would likely face starvation. So, I decided to let go of any concerns about my previous lifestyle, where I would drive around in a four-wheeler and embraced the reality of delivering food on a bike. And it is as if I have knotted all these things up in a piece of cloth and put them in my cupboard. Delivery work is often devalued by people who do not understand it, but I receive many thanks from people who would otherwise struggle to eat.
There are both positive and negative aspects to this profession. As summer approaches, we face the challenge of making deliveries in the scorching afternoon heat when the roads are deserted except for food delivery personnel. We encounter various situations and sometimes even have to deal with the police. Late at night, we come across individuals who are drunk and sometimes, seeking assistance from the police becomes necessary.
What was your biggest challenge in the beginning?
At first, the challenge was locating restaurants when orders came in. Coming from Banaras (Varanasi), I had explored some of the areas but not restaurants or homes, so it took some time to reach them. I had to learn navigation, how maps worked, and how to travel with them. After 4 years, I can find any restaurant and lane in Banaras (Varanasi) quickly.
Do you receive promotions in this job?
Cities like Banaras lack promotion opportunities, whereas metro cities such as Hyderabad, Allahabad, Delhi and Bombay have them. Promotion involves transitioning from food deliveries to field management, leading a team and ensuring tasks are completed correctly.
A day in their life:
What does a day look like for you?
Navratri and Ramzan festivals are currently affecting order flow; however, yesterday was better than the previous days. We get paid according to targets: 650 rupees for 13 orders and 975 rupees for 19 orders. To meet the target of 13 orders, I am working from 11 AM to 11 PM. Yesterday, I completed 19 orders from 12 PM to 11:30 PM. I begin my deliveries at 12PM, take snacks at 3-4 PM and work a full shift of 11 hours, including a mandatory 30 minutes before and after. I usually do not take any breaks. Instead, I just grab a snack between 4-6 PM when orders are low.
Where do you spend your non-peak hours when the orders are low?
During peak hours, there can be up to 50 orders per hour (near a restaurant). During non-peak hours (e.g. 4-6 PM), there are typically 20 orders per hour. Therefore, when few orders are available, sitting near a restaurant to get more orders can be beneficial. There has no guaranteed space available from Swiggy, so riders usually park their bike in a shady area with a breeze and get water from the restaurants while picking up orders. This enables the us to stay hydrated during the hot summer days.
Income and expenses:
Anurag earns approximately Rs. 6,500-7,000 weekly, deposited directly to his bank account by Wednesday. His wife and sister also contribute income to the household.
How much does your wife earn? How much does your sister earn?
My sister earns around 20,000 per month from her job, and I've asked her to save up for her wedding in the future. My wife earns 10,000-15,000 monthly and usually earns more during the wedding season. I won’t need to ask my sister for money, as I’ll cover her wedding costs myself.
How do you manage weeks when your earnings fall below the average?
Earning anything less than my usual income is something I cannot even imagine. If my earnings fall below a certain threshold, typically around 5000 or 5500, it becomes difficult for me to sleep at night. It's painful to realize that, despite putting in tremendous effort, I have only managed to earn 5500 in a week. Lower earnings tend to occur during the winter season. As food items become cheaper, people tend to cook at home more often, and the days become shorter. Consequently, this leads to decreased demand and earnings during this time.
After the festival of Deepavali, the number of orders starts reducing and remains low until after Makar Sankranti. This decline is primarily due to the affordability and availability of inexpensive vegetables during winter, which encourages people to cook homemade meals. Additionally, people prefer staying indoors during this season, opting for the warmth and comfort of their homes instead of going out. As a result, there is a higher preference for cooking meals at home rather than ordering food delivery.
Is there any particular time when you get more orders?
During festivals such as Holi, I am flooded with orders. Recently, during Holi, I had so many orders that I was unable to stop working, even when my shift was ending. I earn approximately Rs.8,500-9,000 during these times.
What is your household expense?
I cannot tell you the exact household expenses. I provide money weekly for expenses. They let me know if any additional needs arise, and I will arrange for it. As for my expenses, I spend approximately 250 rupees per day. Filling my tank with petrol in one go helps me save money since my bike then runs more efficiently. I give my wife 1500 to 2000 rupees per week to manage the household expenses.
What kind of expenses do you have related to your bike?
I fill up the small tank of my bike every 3-4 days with no additional expense. Once a month, I spend 700-800 rupees on servicing the bike.
How do you manage unexpected expenses?
Unexpected expenses can be managed by setting aside money in advance or borrowing and repaying the amount in small instalments each month or week. I've taken this approach if I don't have the funds.
Savings and Investment
How much money do you save every month?
I save approximately Rs.1000-1500 each month. I had a high level of success but have since come down, and I am working hard to reach that status again. The savings will be beneficial in that endeavour. I will not restart a contract job but instead, look to start something new to allow me to reach the same level of success again.
Where do you keep your money saved?
I keep my money in my account or give it to my wife in cash form because it's more liquid. That way, I can access it immediately at any time. If I buy something like gold instead, I would have to wait to sell it or cash it in for immediate use.
Do you have any goals associated with your savings?
My goal is to maintain 1 or 2 lakhs in cash. The remaining money can be deposited in an account, put into an FD, or invested in assets to grow my wealth.
Do you invest in stocks or mutual funds?
I invest in stocks occasionally. I am saving for the long term, adding around Rs.100-200 to my investments each week. I am currently invested in the banking sector but not in mutual funds. A friend who works in food delivery recommended Angel One, and after talking with him, I put some money into stocks with newfound confidence.
Does your friend also provide advice regarding the stock market?
He gave me good advice, and I need money to follow it. I invest only a small amount each week, so I buy bank shares at a low price, so I get more quantity and pay a lower rate. The sector he suggested would cost more and give me less quantity, so for the long-term (20-25 years) investments, and I need to get more quantity sooner at a lower price. If it improves, I will gain more value due to the quantity I have.
Borrowing and insurance
Where do you borrow money from during an emergency?
Taking out a gold loan was an option I tried long ago, but due to my inability to repay it I lost my gold. Therefore, I prefer taking money from friends instead. I promise them repayment within a certain amount of days and can manage a few days late if needed. However, taking a gold loan from another source must be repaid on time to avoid extra surcharges. My loan from Muthoot Finance was for a work project which didn't begin. As a result, I couldn't make the payment and lost my gold. The loan must be renewed every three months, and the total amount must be paid; else, the gold can be auctioned if its value exceeds the loan amount. To keep the gold, one must make the payment.
Does Swiggy offer you loans?
Swiggy offers loans starting at 10,000 Rupees. The first loan is capped at Rs.10,000, with subsequent loans eligible for up to Rs.25,000 or Rs. 40,000. Ever since I lost my gold, I have been motivated to become financially independent so that I no longer need to borrow money from others.
Do you have insurance?
I do not have any insurance. The bike has insurance, and it is mandatory for it. I have now increased the accident insurance coverage from 1 lakh to 2 lakhs. Additionally, my job at Swiggy provides me with 10 lakhs of accident insurance and 2 lakhs for hospitalization, while my family has 1 lakh rupee coverage.
What kind of changes would you like to see in your work environment?
The facilities here are satisfactory. However, there are areas of improvement. I have proposed the introduction of flexible duty timings that would focus on the total number of orders completed rather than start and end times. Removal of the latter condition would bring greater flexibility to the workplace. Working during summer afternoons can be challenging. To maximize earnings, working in the morning and evening is beneficial. In case of emergency, such as needing to leave, or if orders are sparse, only the earnings for half the day will be obtained. Working from 12 PM to 11 PM for 12 hours and delivering 13 orders brings in 650 rupees, and 19 orders earn 975 rupees. If 10 orders are delivered before leaving, then only 200 rupees will be earned.
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