Food delivery riders deserve better rights at work

The convenience of home-delivered takeaway food is something that many people have come to take for granted but we need to stop and consider the inherent risks for the bicycle riders involved. Deliveries by bicycle have revolutionised home delivery, especially in inner-city locations, reducing the cost and time it takes from lodging an order online to opening your front door and accepting the bags of food.

The evidence is growing, however, that many of these bicycle riders and car drivers, who are overwhelmingly non-permanent residents, are being poorly treated and underpaid. Riding with a huge box on your back in Sydney traffic or on poorly lit suburban streets at night can be particularly dangerous.

The tragic deaths in road accidents of UberEats rider Dede Fredy and Hungry Panda worker Xiaojun Chen in late September highlighted the problem, but there have been at least two other deaths in the industry since 2017.

Safework NSW documents released under freedom of information legislation and reported by the Herald show delivery riders made 25 reports of serious injuries this year compared with just three last year.

The NSW government says it will talk with tech companies and decide whether to change workplace laws to give gig workers, such as bike riders, more rights.

The Herald has seen a NSW Centre for Work Health and Safety report prepared for those talks, which found that in addition to the risk from traffic accidents delivery riders are regularly the victims of verbal abuse, robbery or vandalism of delivery equipment.

Although UberEats and Hungry Panda have changed their practices to make it easier to make complaints, the report said that few riders speak out because they are mostly young male international students here on temporary visas who fear the repercussions.

Many have been stranded here by the coronavirus epidemic and have lost jobs in other industries, which leaves them short of cash to pay college fees.

The fundamental problem for delivery riders is that most are classified as contractors, a status that absolves UberEats, Deliveroo and Hungry Panda from giving them conditions, such as sick leave, superannuation and workers’ compensation, to which other employees are entitled.

This is a common story in the gig economy, which uses smartphone apps to provide services and goods once provided by bricks and mortar stores. Uber and Deliveroo owe their profits not just to their clever technology but also to their ability to sidestep the workplace laws that apply in conventional companies.

A NSW upper house parliamentary inquiry, which opened on Monday, heard the case of a Colombian delivery rider for UberEats who had an accident. While Uber decided to pay him 30 days of wages, he was not covered by insurance.

On the other side of the ledger, large tech companies argue that consumers benefit from the flexibility of the gig economy and they are using their financial muscle all around the world to fight more regulation. After a massive ad campaign funded by Big Tech, voters in California last week approved a proposition that overturned a series of court judgments and made it clear that delivery workers are independent contractors.

The federal government has shown no interest in amending the Fair Work Act to protect delivery riders but the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has just allowed them to bargain collectively for wages and conditions.

It seems clear the pendulum has swung too far in favour of deregulation and vulnerable delivery riders deserve more support. At the very least, huge companies such as Uber and Deliveroo must train their riders and take more responsibility for keeping them safe on Sydney’s streets. Consumers too should have an interest in the sustainable and safe treatment of workers who provide this valuable service.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald

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