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Coronavirus exposes U.S. Uber, Lyft drivers’ lack of safety net- Technology News, Firstpost

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 Coronavirus exposes U.S. Uber, Lyft drivers lack of safety net

By Tina Bellon and Nivedita Balu

(Reuters) – As independent contractors, U.S. ride-hail drivers for Uber and Lyft benefited from soaring trip demand and flexible work hours.

But as the coronavirus brings large parts of the country to a halt, drivers and companies are facing the downside of an ambiguous contractor model. Many Uber and Lyft drivers depend on the companies, but under U.S. labor law they do not have the protections granted to regular employees.

Under pressure to ease the plight of its roughly 1.3 million U.S. drivers and food delivery workers, Uber has seized on the crisis to advance its campaign for a larger overhaul of U.S. employment law to permit it to offer more benefits while maintaining workers’ contractor status, changes it has requested from state and federal lawmakers for several years.

Uber Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi on Monday urged U.S. legislators to use the current crisis as an opportunity to implement changes to existing employment law by creating what the company calls a “third way” in between employment and contractor status.

A spokesman for U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer on Wednesday said a massive federal coronavirus aid bill will include reforms to make unemployment insurance available to self-employed and gig workers, adding that more details would be presented throughout the day.

Uber’s proposal drew sharp criticism from labor unions.

“A ‘third way’ is just a euphemism for creating a new underclass of workers with fewer rights and protections,” said Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation.

In a statement, Uber said economic forecasts meant more people will need flexible, independent work in the future, which was why it wanted to raise the standard for that work.

Uber’s original benefits plan did not include unemployment insurance, the protection drivers seek most under current circumstances. A driver advocacy group in New York on Tuesday called on Uber and Lyft to contribute to emergency unemployment pay.

Uber did not comment on the lack of unemployment insurance, saying only that its proposed model included “extended benefits for independent contractors.”

Lyft in a statement said the vast majority of its workers drive fewer than 10 hours per week and 80% have full or part-time jobs offering some level of benefits. Lyft said it was fighting for drivers to receive aid in the federal stimulus package, but did not comment on Uber’s push for legal changes.

VULNERABLE GIG WORKERS

Demand for ride-hailing trips in recent weeks has declined by as much as 70% in some U.S. cities and many drivers told Reuters they stopped driving over fears of getting exposed to the virus or infecting others.

Makela Edwards, an Uber driver from Oakland, California, enjoyed the steady pay and flexible hours driving afforded after leaving her job as a public school teacher at the end of 2018. Now, demand for Uber rides has all but dried up.

“This coronavirus has really lifted the lid about how vulnerable I am and how we as gig workers are being left out of the discussion,” Edwards said.

Some drivers said they planned to apply for unemployment benefits regardless of their contractor status, hoping for more flexibility under the current circumstances.

Others said they have switched to food delivery as a more reliable source of income with roughly a third of the U.S. population ordered to stay home. Uber on Wednesday said the number of people signing up to deliver food in the United States and Canada doubled last week from the week prior but did not provide additional details.

Uber and rival Lyft have established funds to compensate drivers and delivery people diagnosed with COVID-19 or placed in quarantine by health officials for up to 14 days.

Uber said payments have started to go out, but declined to share additional details. Lyft did not provide any details on the payment of those funds.

The companies have also said they would distribute hand sanitizers. But both have closed their local hubs, places where drivers can go to receive in-person help or use the bathroom, and drivers do not know where to receive disinfectants.

Uber in a statement said suppliers had prioritized orders for healthcare workers, with its orders being moved down the queue several times. The company said it would communicate a distribution plan in light of the hub closures, but did not provide additional details. Lyft did not comment on disinfectants.

Most workers’ benefits, including health insurance and workers’ compensation, are attached to an employment relationship, said Pauline Kim, an employment law professor at Washington University in St. Louis.

Providing contractors with added benefits such as unemployment insurance requires a change or the passage of a new law, Kim said, adding that the current crisis highlighted the gap in protection between gig workers and regular employees.

(Reporting by Tina Bellon in New York; additional reporting by Nivedita Balu in Bangalore; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Marguerita Choy)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

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CCI approves merger of Medlife with larger rival PharmEasy, Technology News, ETtech

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Illustration: Rahul Awasthi
Illustration: Rahul Awasthi

India’s competition watchdog has approved the merger of online pharmacy Medlife with larger rival PharmEasy, the first major consolidation play in the sector that has recently seen the entry of deep-pocketed players like Reliance Industries and Amazon.

The deal will see API Holdings, the parent entity of PharmEasy, acquire 100% equity shares of Medlife, filings with the Competition Commission of India (CCI) show. Medlife’s promoters will in return get a 19.95% stake in the combined entity.

ET had first reported on the proposed merger of PharmEasy and Medlife in August, when the two firms had made a joint application to the CCI.

Sources close to the developments had told ET that the valuation of the combined entity would be around $1.2 billion, which would value the stake held by Medlife’s shareholders in API Holdings at around $240 million.

The approval comes a little over a month after Reliance Retail acquired 60% stake in Chennai-based Vitalic, parent company of Netmeds, for approximately Rs 620 crore. Reliance also got 100% ownership of Netmeds’ subsidiaries, Tresara Health, Netmeds Market Place and Dadha Pharma Distribution.

Earlier in August, e-commerce giant Amazon too marked its entry into the e-pharmacy segment, starting deliveries of prescription drugs to customers in Bangalore. The company is working with its largest seller Cloudtail to sell medicines, which will require customers to upload a photo of their prescription in order to get them delivered home.

PharmEasy was valued at around $700 million when it closed a $220 million funding round led by Singapore’s Temasek in November last year. It is as yet unclear if the transaction between Medlife and PharmEasy a purely stock-swap deal.

PharmEasy and Medlife did not respond to ET’s queries till press time on Tuesday.

Ananth Narayanan, who was appointed Medlife CEO in August last year, will stay on as an advisor for some time even after the deal is closed, sources had told ET. Narayanan had also invested in Medlife in his personal capacity and had assumed the position of cofounder as well.



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My essential Mac apps for working from home, Tech News & Top Stories

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People always go gaga over shiny new gadgets and hardware. However, it is usually the software that ultimately dictates whether there is a good and intuitive user experience.

For that reason, I prefer macOS computers over Windows machines.

My established workflow is just more efficient on a Mac – more so these days when I am working from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Even though I have a Windows gaming rig, it is purely for gaming (time to upgrade to Nvidia RTX 3080, by the way). And while I have a company-issued Windows laptop, I use it only to input my articles into the company’s system. I am a good example that you can run everything on a Mac.

Here are my essential productivity apps for a work-from-home Mac set-up.

iA Writer


PHOTO: INFORMATION ARCHITECTS

$44.98, available on Mac App Store

I don’t use Microsoft Word. Instead, I have been using the writing app Information Architects (iA) Writer for many years to type out my articles, like this one here.

Unlike Word, iA Writer does not have any rulers, formatting bars and other stuff to distract you.

It offers you just a white (or black when in Dark mode) canvas for you to write your articles, craft your reports and code your programs.

It even has a Focus mode that will black out everything else except the sentence or paragraph you are currently working on.

I like the app so much that I also bought the iOS version to use on my iPhone and iPad. It is also available on Windows and Android.

Pixelmator Pro


PHOTO: PIXERLMATOR TEAM

$40.98, available on Mac App Store

If you are tired of Adobe’s subscription model for its Photoshop imaging-editing suite, you should check out Pixelmator Pro.

It might not have an image-browser tool like Bridge that accompanies Photoshop, but Pixelmator Pro has all the image- editing tools you need and more.

One key difference is its use of machine learning (ML) to enhance your photos.

For instance, its ML Enhance feature uses an ML algorithm trained on millions of professional photos to give you automatic enhancement with one click.

But I am especially impressed with its ML Super Resolution feature that allows you to increase the resolution of your existing images, like what you see in movies.

You can zoom in, select ML Super Resolution and witness a pixelated area being filled up with pixels while maintaining the subject matter.

Parallels Desktop 16


PHOTO: PARALLELS INC

US$79.99 (S$109) for a yearly subscription

There will be instances when you need to use Windows apps because they are not available on macOS – especially for companies that have proprietary Windows apps.

This is when a virtualisation software like Parallels Desktop 16 (PD16) comes in handy.

With PD16, you do not need to reboot your Mac to run Windows using macOS’ native Boot Camp app. You can start Windows 10 on macOS itself and run Windows apps like a macOS app in the Mac environment.

This latest version offers better performance and faster graphics. It is also optimised for the upcoming macOS 11 Big Sur operating system.

But there is something I like more than the PD16’s virtualisation capability – the accompanying Parallel Toolbox.

Into its fourth version, this suite offers around 30 shortcut tools that will increase your productivity. For instance, it allows you to free memory, start screen recording and easily download a video clip from a browser.

Acronis True Image 2021


PHOTO: ACRONIS

$82 (standard version for one PC)

The macOS is essentially more secure than the Windows platform by virtue of its small market share. No hacker would want to spend time and effort to target a small portion of the market.

However, that does not mean the macOS is 100 per cent malware- or virus-proof. It still needs to be protected from cyber attacks.

And Acronis True Image 2021 is one of the few security software that is available for macOS. Its Active Protection mode continuously checks every file you open to see if it has malicious elements like ransomware.

It also features anti-virus scan for you to check your Mac any time you like or you can schedule a weekly scan. In addition, it lets you back up your computer to another drive, so you can recover it in the event of hard drive failure.

On the downside, the macOS version does not come with video- conferencing protection to prevent “Zoom-bombing” or illegal entry into your Zoom or WebEx meetings.



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HCL technologies | DWS Ltd: HCL tech acquires Australian IT firm DWS for $115.8 million

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NEW DELHI: HCL Technologies has announced the acquisition of Australian IT firm DWS Ltd for $115.8 million in a bid to further expand its digital offerings especially in Australia and New Zealand.

The DWS Group closed FY 2020 with revenues of $ 122.9 million and has over 700 employees with operations in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Brisbane, and Canberra. It provides a wide range of IT services including digital transformation, application development and support, programme and project management and consulting.

Michael Horton, Executive Vice President & Country Manager, Australia & New Zealand, HCL Technologies, said “We are excited for this expansion of HCL Technologies in Australia and New Zealand and are confident that our combined strengths will further accelerate the digital transformation journeys of our clients and innovations for their end customers. HCL has invested in the region for over 20 years and is committed to enabling digitilisation and growing the local ecosystem, he added.

HCL-graph

HCL currently employs 1600 people in major cities, including Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth. The transaction is expected to close in December 2020, subject to closing conditions, including regulatory approvals.

Danny Wallis, CEO and Managing Director, DWS said, “We are delighted the DWS team is joining HCL. This acquisition represents an outstanding outcome for all DWS stakeholders: shareholders, employees, clients and other business partners.”



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