Deaths in Australia highlight plight of delivery riders

Lockdown-fuelled demand for take-out meals has brought throngs of new delivery riders onto streets around the world, but in Australia the boom has also seen tragedy with a spate of road deaths highlighting the plight of couriers. As many industries ground to a halt last year, millions lost their jobs and others were asked to work from home, 43-year-old Xiaojun Chen was among the legions of couriers who rushed out on the job.

Food riders doubled the time they spent zipping around Australia’s streets in April and May last year as lockdowns were in force, according to data from one delivery service, Deliveroo.

“My husband loved his life, looked forward to the future, and was kindhearted,” his wife Lihong Wei told AFP through tears.

Chen’s firm Hungry Panda paid for his funeral expenses and for his widow to fly to Australia, but his status as a contractor rather than a full-time employee has made further help unclear. A Hungry Panda spokesman told AFP that, although it was not legally required to, the company was still discussing compensation over Chen’s death and was working to improve safety for riders through equipment and training.

The “gig economy” — using temporary “independent” workers for short-term tasks — has exploded since the launch of the Uber ride-sharing service in 2009.

Sixty-one-year-old Steve Khouw, who has been riding for Deliveroo for more than four years, told AFP he started delivering for the platforms mainly for exercise, but found many of his fellow couriers needed the work to survive. Riders, who are paid by delivery, often feel pressured to rush to avoid bad reviews that can mean they are booted from a platform, Khouw added.

Esteban Linares, who was injured while riding for Uber Eats, says the promise of flexibility disappears when you rely on the platforms for a living. In recent years legal challenges to gig worker conditions have multiplied around the world, pushing back against the lack of employer-provided benefits like health insurance or minimum wage protections.

“When people start getting killed out there and hospitalised that’s where we draw the line,” Menulog Managing Director Morten Belling told a hearing of federal parliament in Sydney.

The announcement was heralded as a “watershed” moment by Australia’s Transport Workers Union.

An Uber Eats Australia spokeswoman told AFP that the company continues to call for “sensible measures” to provide benefits and protections but wouldn’t follow Menulog as it would reduce the flexibility of working for the platform.

Similarly, Deliveroo said it was committed to improving conditions but blamed current industrial law for preventing it from providing increased benefits.

“We find that in Australia, we don’t have the same density of riders as, for example, in Britain,” he said.

“It is paramount to let everyone know that we are not alone,” he said.

Source: The Australian

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