Project role: Researcher
Srujana is a doctoral student at the OII and a member of the Fairwork Project. Her research focusses on digital labour, migration, and resistance.
Policymakers around the world are grappling with the transformative impacts of new AI-enabled technologies on the world of work. Much extant policy discussion around AI and the Future of Work takes as its starting point the structural conditions of labour markets in the Global North. Such markets are typically characterised by a shrinking workforce (due to ageing populations), and concerns about how AI-enabled automated processes are replacing permanent contract jobs, leading to casualisation and the erosion of labour market protections. This is particularly evident in the platform economy where digital platforms like Uber and Deliveroo algorithmically mediate piece work in logistics and service sectors, largely outside the scope of labour laws.
On the other hand, majority world countries like India present starkly different baseline conditions, necessitating focused inquiry. In contrast to countries in the Global North, the Indian labour market has for decades been characterised by a labour surplus comprised largely of a young workforce the majority of whom are engaged in informal work, and the withdrawal of the state from social provisioning. These conditions have engendered fertile ground for the proliferation of the AI-enabled platform model of work organisation in Indian cities.
Digital platforms have been able to effectively tap the under-/unemployed urban workforces, without challenging or remaking the structural conditions of traditional informal work. That is, Indian platform workers, like in pre-algorithmic work arrangements, continue to lack formal labour protections, have low earnings, and poor job security. In this encounter between informality and AI technologies, the algorithmic is in many ways cementing labour precarity for informal workers.
To date, AI and Work policy discussions in India and beyond have inadequately grappled with how to regulate AI-enabled technologies in contexts characterised by informality. This project seeks to address this policy gap, by conducting a review of the Indian government’s policy and strategy documents relating to AI and the Future of Work, to answer the question, how can AI and Work policy in India be (re)configured to address the persistent informality that characterises urban labour markets?