The ongoing Blinkit fiasco: Just a tip of the iceberg?

A few days ago, I went on to order something from Blinkit, but the app greeted me with a message saying ‘We’re under maintenance. Temporarily unavailable’. When this message displayed on the app even after 48 hours, I sensed there was something fishy. I didn’t have to dig much deep to uncover the fact that Blinkit’s extremely dissatisfied delivery workers were on a strike and its dark stores across Delhi NCR were shut. 

I must admit. Life without Blinkit is pretty ‘Meh!’. 

Just a little more than a couple of years ago, when we weren’t introduced to the magic of ‘within 10 minute delivery’, the online grocery delivery app Grofers was getting ready to bring in a thunderstorm by rebranding itself as ‘Blinkit’. Since then, they have been one of the leading players in this space in India, with a presence in over 30 cities across the country. 

Blinkit is currently facing a major backlash from its delivery partners over its new payout policy, which has resulted in protests across Delhi, Faridabad, Noida and other parts of the National Capital Region (NCR). The new policy, which came into effect on April 1, 2023, reduces the minimum payout for delivery partners from INR 25 to INR 15 per delivery, and while it may seem like a small difference for us, but for the delivery persons that toil throughout the day, it will have a major impact on their earnings. And with the aggravation active for almost a week now, Blinkit is facing heavy losses too. 

The protests have been going on for six days, with thousands of delivery partners taking to the streets to voice their dissent against the new policy. They argue that the reduced payout would make their jobs unsustainable and force them to look for alternative sources of income. Several stores have also been closed due to a staffing shortage, and others are operating at reduced capacity, causing inconvenience to customers.

In a recent development, Blinkit is shutting down some of its dark stores permanently in Delhi and Gurugram, according to messages from Blinkit to some delivery partners. The delivery executives have claimed that they have received the intimation regarding the closures of dark stores on the Blinkit delivery partner app. The company also assigned a reason for the permanent closure and said that no work is going on around the stores for the past 3 to 4 days.

For a delivery person working for quick commerce companies like Blinkit, Zepto, Swiggy, etc., a typical day includes long working hours that include various challenges, including traffic, bad weather, and difficult customers.

Ashneer Grover, one of the founding members of Grofers, in a recent tweet, defended the new payout policy, saying that it is necessary to ensure the company’s long-term sustainability. He shifted the blame from a reduced payout policy to the absence of ‘economics’ in the concept of a 10-minute delivery.

But are the delivery partners on the same page as the company’s leadership? No. I wouldn’t doubt their claims of having been with the company through various phases and having worked hard to build the brand. They definitely deserve to be treated better. Many of them have been with the company for several years, and have seen their earnings decline steadily over time. 

Let’s think from the perspective of a delivery person – this won’t take more than a minute or so. 

Not all people order just a couple of things from a grocery delivery app. For some, it has become the source of their monthly restocking of grocery and household items. Carrying a bag of 5kg rice, another of 2kg flour, a couple of kilos of veggies/fruits, and some other items on a bike, especially in the scorching April heat that we’re trying to avoid by not going to the local grocery shop. Take the stairs to visit the third floor, if not delivering in a high rise, because the lifts clearly say that delivery persons are not allowed. Delivering the order and not even being asked for water. Or worse – an encounter with an unruly customer.

This was not a pretty picture to paint in my mind. And these people are living it. Day after day, everyday – sometimes more than 12 hours a day. Add to it their daily fuel and food expenses, and little to no benefit in case they face a mishap on the road. And for this, they will now get INR 15.

They get negligible incentives and gig workers work in a largely unregulated environment, often getting paid on the basis of the number of orders they fill rather than a fixed wage. This leaves less scope for work benefits like casual leaves, festival leaves, health and life insurance, and other employment perks.

“It is not like we just saw the change and started our protest. We delivered orders as usual under the new pay structure to see if we make similar, if not more, money for one day. For about 12 hours of work per day, we could earn around INR 1,200 – but under the new structure, that came down to INR 600-Rs 700,” a worker said.

I’m not surprised that they’re upset about this change. 

The current situation highlights the importance of maintaining job satisfaction in the logistics and supply chain industry. Delivery partners are the backbone of the quick commerce sector, and their efforts are crucial to the success of the companies they work for. However, they are often treated as disposable workers, with little job security or benefits, often leading to high turnover rates, which in turn, can affect the quality of service provided to customers.

It is time companies realised that their delivery partners are not just a cost centre, but an integral part of their operations and their success story. 

Not only do companies need to provide them with adequate equipment and facilities, but also need to ensure fair compensation, and job security & other benefits. Another factor that if present could have probably worked towards avoiding this whole situation is the absence of a formal union that can advocate their rights, making it difficult for workers to come together on policy changes.

In addition, companies need to listen to the feedback of their delivery partners and take their concerns seriously. They need to have a transparent and open dialogue with them, and ensure that their voices are heard. This can help to build trust and loyalty among the delivery partners, and improve the overall quality of service provided to customers.

The protests by Blinkit delivery persons are another sign of the conflict between workers and the firms that have been brewing for many months now. As companies and lawmakers have romanticised the concept of firms offering gig work to people becoming an attractive avenue for employment, workers at these firms have been, for long, silently fighting many battles. And it is quite possible that these protests may have spillovers to other quick commerce firms too.

In my opinion, the current protests by Blinkit delivery partners highlight the importance of maintaining job satisfaction among employees to ensure continued and uninerrrupted operations. Companies should prioritize the well-being and satisfaction of their delivery partners to maintain a healthy and sustainable business model. A motivated and satisfied workforce will result in better performance, customer satisfaction, and overall growth for the company.

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