Retail in Asia

In People

Labour pains for e-commerce players in India

Much before online shopping sites invaded the retail space in India, the seamless delivery mechanism of lunchboxes by dabbawalas in Mumbai was a case study in management schools for its six-sigma performance. The dabbawalas went on strike for the first time in 120 years in 2011 – though they had no demands; they were attending a rally of social activist Anna Hazare.

The phantom of labour unrest has cast its shadow on the e-commerce sector – which too works on the principal of door-step delivery – much sooner. Last month, the first strike struck Flipkart and Myntra, with about 400 delivery personnel stopping work and demanding facilities such toilets and regulation of working hours, among other things.

But delivery personnel of e-commerce players and dabbawalas are different in another manner. The deliverers of meals, who were one of the inspirations for the recent film Lunchbox (2013), have an equal share in the operating trust; the relationship between the e-retail management and delivery personnel, commonly known as "delivery boys", is tenuous at best. The skeleton tumbling out of e-commerce’s closet could also jeopardise the swift growth of the sector.