Over 100 ‘partners’ working with home services marketplace Urban Company have demanded better pay, safer working conditions, and social security benefits and alleged that the company has been exploiting and fleecing them.
On Friday, a majority of women partners from spa and salon verticals went on a day-long strike outside the company’s Udyog Vihar office. In protest, they also logged out of the portal’s app for two days over the weekend and did not accept bookings. They said that in the past few months, the company had incrementally hiked commissions arbitrarily which was cutting into their payouts.
Partners said they had been voicing their concerns for the past three months but had reached an impasse. On Monday, they said they had logged in only after sharing a list of demands with the company, which has now sought a few days to address their concerns. Urban Company, in a statement, said that during the pandemic, it had approved Rs 100 million worth of interest-free loans for all their beauty partners in locked-down regions.
Poonam Parmar, a beautician who has been a partner since 2017, claimed the company had been resorting to ‘sly tactics’ of arbitrarily blocking IDs and downrating partners if they refused bookings.
“They have hiked commissions to as high as 30%. Earlier, we were free to choose the number of job [bookings] in a day. Now if I accept fewer than 12 bookings out of 20, warnings are issued and then the ID is blocked, which means no work. This is not the freelance model that was discussed at the time of joining. They are exploiting us gig economy workers,” she said.
In a memorandum, the partners demanded that the commissions be deducted in a transparent or rule-based manner through a tiered system and that net commission charged must not exceed 20% for a transaction. “For example, for a pedicure that costs Rs 600, Rs 150 is deducted for product purchase charge, Rs 100 on average is conveyance, and they deduct commissions too. I am left with Rs 260 as net payout,” said Parmar.
Calling for flexibility in working operations, partners have demanded four penalty-free cancellations a month; immediate payout of credit refunds; conveyance charges for last-minute cancellations from customers; payout credits for each minute of waiting time of more than 4 minutes; and penalties to be waved off if a partner has cancelled with a 24-hour notice.
“Often we have to refuse or cancel a booking if a place is far or due to safety reasons. I stay near Sohna, so I cannot attend to a booking in Manesar late in the evening. But if I refuse bookings, my rating goes down and this affects future earnings and invites a penalty,” said another beautician, requesting anonymity.
Other demands raised by partners include discretion to purchase products on their own, reinstating partners who have been blocked due to rating issues, a dedicated helpline to report harassment and security issues, social security (accident and general health policy) for all partners, and an overhaul of the rating system. They added that partners should only be scored on service delivery performance.
“We are not allowed to purchase beauty products from the market. We have to buy them from the company. Sometimes, there is a mark-up involved as prices vary from market rates and charge is deducted from our account. There should be transparency,” said Singh, adding that they would continue the protests if their demands are not met.
The firm, in their statement said, “Urban Company partners earn net average earnings of Rs 280-300 per hour, net of commissions, fee and all associated product & travel costs. All service partners have access to life and accidental insurance cover, free training, loans and other benefits such as free vaccinations and PPE kits. Several partners also enjoy free health insurance through the platform.”
It added, “We believe we have made the industry more transparent, reduced the number of middlemen and given a voice to the hitherto voiceless informal labour. We are not perfect and acknowledge that we might have made mistakes in our journey so far. In the coming weeks, we will be announcing some important programs which we believe will further enhance the earnings and well-being of our partner ecosystem.”
The company also shared a detailed blog post on social media rebutting some of the allegations raised by partners.
According to data shared by Urban Company, for women partners in salon and spa verticals in India, in the month of July, on average, a service partner earned Rs 19,717 as net earnings per month after deducting commissions, other fees, travel costs and product costs. For the month of August, a service partner on average earned Rs 20,943 as net earnings per month, while in September, a service partner on average took home Rs 18,831 as net earnings for the month.